Sunday, April 29, 2012

A Final Thought

This class has been eye-opening into the ethical dilemmas PR and advertising professionals face each day in dealing with business and the media. In my (hopefully) long career in PR and communications, I’m certain to encounter a situation where the content from this class will come in handy. The ethical systems we learned at the beginning of class established a great base for understanding ethical conflicts that arise. However once we started to present case studies, I began to see ethical situations I had never before thought of.
                By learning all the ethical systems such as utilitarianism, means-based and Kantian theories, I now have all the measures necessary to make ethical decisions in the my career. The theory I agree most with is Kantian theory because in the end, we all have a responsibility to look out for each other and promote general goodwill. While we need to also be accountable for the outcomes and consequences of our actions, the intent behind actions is more important because it reflects character.
                My “oh wow” occurred when my case study group researched and wrote the case study about the Nestlé scandal in Africa. I’m really shocked at how business people are educated today to look only at profit margins. This was the case when we looked at what Nestlé is doing in Africa. They were looking to increase profit margins at the expense of uneducated mothers and their babies. Although they did put up ads advocating breastfeeding, they acted unethically by refusing to acknowledge that most of the mothers were illiterate. For this reason, it’s important that as communicators, especially PR professionals, we maintain the ethical course for the company and organization as a whole. PR is more than writing press releases and doing social media. The bigger role of the PR professional is to establish and maintains a company’s culture with ethical action. If the company doesn’t have great ethical conduct, the job isn’t a good fit no matter how big your salary is.  It might be cliché, but there is much more to life than money; ethical conduct will ensure that you are satisfied with yourself more than money ever could.
Overall, the class was enlightening and I definitely think the information is invaluable for anyone going into the business and media world. Also, I liked the fact that we learned not only ethical systems to use but we also got to see how they were or weren’t applied in certain cases. Most college classes teach you systems and formulas to use but you don’t get the opportunity to use them until you are out in the real world. By doing the case studies, I was able to better understand how to approach certain ethical situations from both a PR and advertising standpoint.

Friday, April 20, 2012

The Wonderful World of Ozzie

Anyone familiar with baseball knows Ozzie Guillen’s mouth has run faster than his head throughout most of his professional playing and managing career. Oswaldo José Guillén Barrios or Ozzie, as the sports world knows him, has experienced success at every level of professional baseball while managing to entertain sports fans with numerous quotes and rants. As a manager, Guillen led the 2005 Chicago White Sox to their first World Series title since World War I. However, all the success in the world couldn’t keep Ozzie out of hot water after his comments regarding Cuban dictator Fidel Castro.

Guillen was traded to the newly rebranded Miami Marlins during the past offseason not only to help the club win but to keep the Marlins on the front page with his outspoken personality;  and it was this outspoken personality that led to the infamous quote in a TIME article.

"I love Fidel Castro.” Any person could say the same thing and most people couldn’t care less. It was the fact that Guillen is the face of a sports franchise with its stadium in Little Havana. By stating his affection for Fidel Castro, Guillen, perhaps inadvertently, spat on the efforts of Cubans who fled the reign of Castro. Castro is responsible for sending hundreds of Cubans to the firing squad, forced them swim the Gulf of Mexico and continues to keep the Cuban population in constant fear. Some have compared Castro to Hitler, although I personally think the comparison is a stretch.

What this boils down to is how the First Amendment is applied in this case. The First Amendment does protect people from the government in that a person cannot be prosecuted, arrested or jailed for political speech, among other types of speech. However, what tripped up Guillen is that the First Amendment does not protect you in the work place and more importantly in court of public opinion. The outraged Cuban community has threatened to boycott the Marlins games until Guillen is fired. MLB responded not so much out of opposition to the statements Guillen made but the backlash caused by the comments. For his profession of love for Castro, MLB slapped Guillen on the wrist with a 5 game suspension. What’s more disturbing than Guillen’s comments or the backlash it caused is the response by MLB.

Restricting speech is within the right of every company but does MLB really want to be the employer that restricts speech, more importantly political speech? When the Founding Fathers wrote and ratified the Constitution, they added the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment to protect political speech above all else. In 1924, the Supreme Court confirmed that indeed political speech was the most important form of speech. Although commercial speech gained more protection later, the importance of political speech cannot be dismissed.

 Can you imagine facing a leave of absence for supporting a Democrat or Republican? Or idolizing generals such as Alexander the Great or Napoleon, who both caused thousands of unnecessary deaths through unnecessary wars? While the comparison seems outlandish, it has merit in the fact that political speech, no matter how right or wrong, needs to be respected as long as it doesn’t impose on the rights of another.  Guillen’s statement didn’t impose on the Cuban community’s ability to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, therefore his only judgment should have been in the court of public opinion. What I find hypocritical is the fact that Cubans who’ve emigrated from a country where political speech can get you executed now live in a country where free speech is cherished yet they want to restrict the speech of an individual who simply spoke his mind.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sports, PR and Life

The PRSA defines public relations as, “… a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics.” Public relations have become nearly irreplaceable making a business, cause or person standout and successful in the increasingly dense media world. Undoubtedly, ethical questions will arise in the course of conducting business, running a campaign or championing a cause. As a result, it’s imperative for public relations specialist to remain the conscience of the entity for which they work for. By understanding ethical theories and applying them to situations which arise in a career, PR specialist can promise themselves a long-term and successful career. By looking a specific case, we can see how ethical theories were (or weren’t) applied. As French author, journalist and philosopher Albert Camus once said, “A man without ethics is a wild beast loosed upon this world.” In order to protect not only the business or person from public scrutiny, but the profession as a whole, ethics need to be exercised every day.
                Egoism, the first ethical theory we will visit, states that the most ethical act comes from acting in one’s own best interest.  Several problems arise in this ethical situation because the perceived best interest of an organization might not actually be the most ethical approach. There exists no better example than the case of Patrick J. Witt, the former quarterback for Yale University. Witt, a 3.91 GPA student as well as star quarterback for the football team, was set to go before the Rhodes Trust in Atlanta for the Rhodes scholarship. On November 13 of this past year, Witt announced he was withdrawing his application because the game against Harvard happened to conflict with the day he would interview. Around the university and in several major news stations, including ESPN, the record-setting quarterback was hailed as a hero, despite the fact that Yale would be routed by Harvard. It’s a story with a good-feeling ending. Except that it’s not.
                The Rhodes Trust suspended Witt’s application because of an all alleged sexual assault complaint against Witt. Though the girl never filed a complaint with either the university or the police, it was enough to merit Witt’s suspension. To make matter worse, Yale University and Witt knowingly withheld this information from the media and public, instead fabricating a story claiming the reason for withdrawing his application was conflict with Yale-Harvard game. This instance shows the flaws associated with egoism. Witt and Yale both acted ethically according to egoism; they acted in their own best interest in order to protect their images. If Witt and Yale were determined to apply egoism, then they should have at least applied enlightened self-interest. According to Mixed Media, enlightened self-interest acknowledges that businesses do well financially by acting ethically. Therefore acting ethically is in the best interest of the individual and organization. Had Yale and Witt applied this ethical system, Witt would have suffered some minor scrutiny but in America, athletic feats make the American people generally forgiving. Instead, now Yale has its image and integrity questioned, and while its prestige will always boost Yale’s image, the university suffered a black eye of publicity it didn’t have to take.
                Besides applying egoism to this case, we can see how it affected the outcome of the situation. If Yale had media relations specialists on the case, they failed ethically to promote the interests of the public, which includes Yale alumni, sports fans and the American public in general. How different would the situation had been if another ethical situation was applied? As Immanuel Kant would argue, the only ethical act is determined by intent.  Yale and Witt probably knew that by lying they would cover their own butts despite deceiving the public, which is exactly what they did. Instead of acting this way, Yale should have held a press conference for Witt to explain the reason behind removing his application for the Rhodes scholarship.
                Even when one applies utilitarianism, Witt and Yale’s media relations failed ethically. Utilitarianism defines ethical action as when one must do whatever benefits the largest number of people. Witt and Yale were obviously the only benefactors from their acts.

                As shown above, public relations specialists and communicators must act ethically not only for their organization but for public relations professionals as well. In today’s business and political worlds, profit margins and winning seem to hold the highest throne in the minds of Americans. It is imperative that not only as PR professionals but as functioning members of society, we hold ethics in the highest regard. Although an ethical approach might not benefit us, our businesses or our campaigns in the short-term, it’s the long-term that really matters. 

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Thought on Advertising Ethics

            Advertising has never been without controversy since it became common practice in the media. The purpose of advertising is respectable. A company has a newly developed product, and as an advertiser, it is your job to ensure that targeted markets receive information about the product, how it works, how it can improve your daily life and other key factors that go into persuading a customer to purchase your product. However, the way that the message has been conveyed usually produces conflict between advertisers and those that argue advertising causes people to purchase things they don’t necessarily need. The extreme argument against advertising doesn’t hold much weight because no one forces consumers to purchase products, but it does bring up valid points as to when advertising becomes unethical. In specific, I want to look at an area that continues to produce a firestorm of debate between both sides: advertising’s effect on body image.
            No one argues that female bodies in advertising are grossly exaggerated in contrast to the average female today. Thanks to computer programs such as Photoshop and airbrushing, creating the ‘perfect thin woman’ for advertising has become easier, and unfortunately much more prevalent in advertising. In fact, the problem apparently has become so bad that lawmakers in Arizona are looking at the possibility of making advertisers specify when airbrushing has been used on an advertisement. While lawmakers realize that the bill will most likely not pass, they are hoping to bring light to the issue that seems to plague the U.S.   While we realize the exaggeration of advertising, we are just now coming to realize the full effect that body image in advertising has on women and just how much of a negative effect that is. In fact, according to a study released in 1992 by Philip Myers and Frank Biocca suggested that just 30 minutes of exposure to advertising can cause women to alter their view of their bodies.  So how does this play into ethical theories that we have discussed in class so far?
            Well, there are several that could apply to this to judge whether this type of advertising is ethical. First off is utilitarianism, which basically states that in everything you do, acts are only ethical if they benefit the greatest amount of people even for the sake of hurting a few. So if women are the majority and advertisers the minority, according to utilitarianism, advertisers would be acting unethically because they are more concerned with making an advertisement that sells and thus benefits themselves rather than looking at the adverse effect upon women in society. So does this mean that all advertisements regarding body image should be banned due to their unethical nature? The short answer is no, but more importantly, it is necessary that viewers of advertisements and commercials accept personal responsibility and be able to filter through ads. So in this case, utilitarianism does not fit entirely well due to the fact that it does not address the sort of personal responsibility needed to tell the difference between reality and fiction.
            Another ethical theory that I think fits better in this certain case is mean-based ethics. It essentially states that in order to find an ethical answer, you must find a balance between two extremes. A problem with this theory is that it lacks the benchmark to be able to distinguish what is the mean of two extremes. Nonetheless, in this case, I think that it works perfectly and I will address that argument in later paragraphs.
            Removing all advertisements with body image in them would be unrealistic. Imagine the difficulty advertisers would face trying to sell perfume or cologne without showing the natural sexual images that comes along with fragrance and the scent of the opposite sex (or same sex now I guess?). Point-in-case, removing all advertisements would be an extreme while being constantly bombarded by unrealistic body images in every sort of advertisement (think food, baby diapers, etc.) would be extreme as well. Therefore, I believe that using means-based ethics in the area of advertising is the most ethical approach. It leaves neither side lacking because advertisers could still sell using body image, yet by using a more natural and average body image, you reduce the risk that the advertisement would adversely and negatively affect body images of women. Furthermore, in order to find a medium in this case, all one has to do is look at the pull between the perception of body image and how well advertisers feel they are able to complete their job. When one side starts pulling towards an extreme, advertisers should look as that a red flag to retreat from that direction and return to a more medium position.  
            As shown by evidence above, the exaggeration of body images has continued to deepen the divide between advertisers and women would negatively view their body.  It is important to remember that happiness is usually achieved through moderation. The body can’t have too much sodium nor can it have too little; the same holds true for advertising and until advertisers learn to find that happy medium, it will only become more difficult for them to defend their position.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Need for Ethics in Business and Media

The underlying principles for business and media ethics are numerous, especially in today's world of Twitter, social media and rapid transmission of messages. With the increased speed of communications, it is becoming critical that communication professionals and business leaders act swift but ethically in situations that arise concerning their business. Boiling it down to specifically ethics, it's important that individuals hold ethics in daily functions, because the reality of matter is that we all interact with other individuals on day-to-day occasions. While it sounds ideal that everyone should have ethics, the problem with this idea is that everyone has differing opinions over what is valued, which sometimes makes it difficult to align values and ethics together. Consequently, every business should have values that align with business ethics.
On a business level, it simply comes down to interaction. The word “business” implies that there is a level of relationship between two parties. In fact, one definition according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary defines business as, “dealings or transactions especially of an economic nature.Therefore, it is imperative that we handle our business dealings in an exact reflection of how we wish to be treated. In the way that we trade, pay, sell or communicate, it is essential that all businesses conduct themselves in such a way that they uphold what is ethical. It is not only a crucial factor in running a good business with investors and other businesses partners but also with consumers. The basic level of function for a business is to create and sell a product, good or service that is useful to the consumer in hopes of achieving a profit. But if this is not conducted with honesty and transparency, earning a profit becomes a struggle. It’s not a matter of if but when the bottom-line suffers.
I’d like to point out a case that recently occurred in 2010. Johnson & Johnson, a company known worldwide for their innovation in medical supplies and medicine, recently experienced an ethical dilemma.  On March 30, 2010 Johnson  & Johnson issued a voluntary recall on some children’s medicine that they found linked to causing illness. The recall, which affected over 40 countries, resulted from a routine plant inspection. Rather than sweep the matter at hand under the rug, Johnson & Johnson took the steps to issue a massive recall, which cost the company millions of dollars. But rather than waiting for the FDA to issue a recall, J&J took the initiative themselves. Although they later faced more inspections and an eventual recall on hip replacements this past year, J&J was transparent. Companies are made of people and people inherently will make mistakes. Consumers are more willing to accept those mistakes and maintain a relationship with the business if they are open, transparent and honest. Although J&J lost money and will continue to lose money this year, those ethics saved the company from a certain destruction of public image.
On the other hand, there is a way not to do things. In the case of Enron, simply stated, they failed on every level to uphold any sort of ethical standard. For anyone that doesn’t know, Enron was an energy company that committed massive accounting fraud and errors, resulting in millions of dollars that were lost by investors. For more info about exactly happened, you can click here but for our purposes, we will just discuss the ethics behind decisions made at the executive level. Enron collapsed because the accounting firm, Arthur Andersen, was pressed by high-level officials of Enron to ignore monstrous accounting errors. Not only did Enron’s top official act unethically but so did Arthur Andersen officials as well. When billions of dollars are placed in the hands of companies by trusting investors, it’s only fair and necessary that the company reciprocate that trust. Enron represents how the effects of business and media ethics are not contained to the company. The collapse of Enron sent a shock wave throughout the business world, leaving hundreds who had invested their life savings without a cent to their name.
            As shown by the two contrasting examples above, the need for ethics in media and business is of the upmost importance in today’s world of rapid communication. People want to interact and do business with companies that are ethical, such as Johnson & Johnson. When people fail to act in an ethical manner, not only is the public image of the company, but also the public itself is hurt. The first rule of public relations is to inform the public and to prevent harm to the public. As public relations practioners, it’s essential that we validate the profession by conducting ourselves in a manner that shows we are a profession of honest, open and hard-working professionals. Business aside, it’s important that in the public relations profession we act as the conscience of the company or client that we work for. By leading the way in ethical decision-making, public relations practioners can build a reputation as trustworthy people that will steer the company in the ethical direction.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

A Final Note

The past few months I have been taking this class have been interesting. With all the points that have been presented, not all which I agree with, some are nonetheless legitimate. Jour 4250 has encouraged me not to accept these ideas but to research and strengthen my ideas, which run along as conservative. Now I want to revisit some of the more interesting points of the class.

I first would like to point out the need to critically analyze the teacher. In a class where media is the target of debate, the teacher of a college class needs to be analyzed exactly like one would a news show, magazine or newspaper. Teacher, like all of us, have a collections of experiences from which they have formed their opinions. No person can completely remove themselves from their experiences and those experiences' impact.

Second, while this class presented many points to think about the media, it boils down to personal responsibility. If you want you daughter to think of herself as more than just an object of beauty, them turn of the TV and take some time to relate to your child those values. No media can force its way into your life. You have to option to choose which media one consume's.

One of the topics I will revisit again was the debate over the Native American mascot. Let it be known that I am for the use of indian mascots because the way they are using the mascot is in a past, historical context. Yes, Native Americans are still around but not in the historical context as we commonly think of.

As someone who has personally visited a Native American reservation in North Dakota, I can say that it is not filled with tepees and huts. It has many houses and businesses which are exactly the same as cities off the reservation. The Native Americans that lived on the plains like the Comanche, Apache, or Cheyenne do not go about life like the used. Just like people from Scandinavia do not act like Vikings. You might say well that's not fair because they were suppressed. The Spartans were eventually suppressed by the Romans. Does that make the Spartans an insensitive mascot? No.  If we decided that every historical mascot was insensitive, then all we would have is animal mascots.

Overall, the class was very controversial. One positive aspect is that if you happen to be in the minority that doesn't agree, you are taught to do your research and know your facts. This is a valuable life lesson for everyone and it's the biggest lesson I've taken away from this class.

When Politics and Sports Collide

In the wake of the Jerry Sandusky scandal at Penn State, and the scandal at Syracuse involving long time assistant coach Bernie Fine, the sports world has been left in shock. Not only are we left to wonder how these programs will recover and where do we go from here, but more importantly, how did we get to this point? How did we get to the point that the prestige of a sports program outweighs the rights of a human, especially a child? Does big money from T.V. contracts, alumni, and bowl championships drive the force under which any one opposing such institutions are crushed?

Unfortunately, this has been a long time coming in a culture such as ours. A place where professionals athletes like Albert Pujols are given millions of dollars to play a game. (He just signed today a 10-year, $250 million dollar contract.) We are a sports-obsessed, winning-obsessed culture in which we live vicariously through our athletes achievements, and scorn them when they take big money to go to another team.

Put yourself in their shoes because I know I would want to secure both my children's and grand-children's financial future with a simple contract. Further more, I do not condemn athletes for taking large contracts. This is America and we live in a capitalist economy. Business is business and in every day life, you have employers willing to cut you from employment at the drop of a dime. So why not take all the money you can get out of the system.

No, I'm not condemning the money behind the business. But I do condemn the business when it simultaneously crushes the rights and freedom of those get caught in the politics of sports. While I am horrified at the events at Penn State, I can't say that I'm entirely surprised. We as a society have emphasized winning at all costs. Winners, not losers, get the parade. They get to go on the Late Show. They get the interviews and the banner-raising ceremonies. We thirst for winning from our sports teams because we feel that in some way, we are winners too.

So it's no surprise that our culture has produced monsters such as Jerry Sandusk whose ability to carry out such crimes is hidden by the fact that he is a winner. Such was the reason that Tiger Woods was able to carry out his extra-marital affairs. The arena of sports is becoming more and more a place where child abuse occurs because of the lure of money. Parents who think that a coach can get them into a school or make them into a professional athlete have made themselves vulnerable to others taking advantage of their children.

Furthermore, like I have stated in previous blogs, we are a country unwilling to accept blame. It's not Penn State alone who should carry the blame, although they are largely responsible. Sports fans as a whole are responsible, myself included. We put so much emphasis of the need to win that we make sports authorities think twice when they are confronted with an issue that might damage their reputation. And it will only get worse.