PR Campaigns – The blog

October 2, 2008

Are we destined to repeat past PR mistakes?

Filed under: ABC PR — ccharvey @ 8:28 pm
Tags: , , , , , , ,

Today’s lecture really got me thinking about ethical PR v. not-so-ethical PR.  Now, I didn’t say unethical PR because I’m not so sure that it is.  I think that some PR campaigns or messages may be a little too far from the ethical standpoint and the line begins to blur.  When we discussed in class the practice of astroturfing on behalf of a particular client’s cause, the film “Thank You For Smoking” was brought up.  It got me thinking about the ethics of PR and tobacco.  Later, when I was watching TV, I saw the commercial with two moms talking about high fructose corn syrup from the Corn Refiners Association.  Is it really ethical to try to turn around the image for an ingredient that has had such a negative stigma for so long?  Was everyone just simply wrong about high fructose corn syrup all along, or is it possible that the same thing that happened years ago with cigarettes is repeating itself?

I went to the website at the end of the commercial, Sweet Surprise, and found a fact sheet on high fructose corn syrup.  The facts all seem credible to me, but is that the “spin” that the PR professionals want us to believe?  It makes me wonder if the PR people believe in the cause or only the benefit of their client.  Should we expect to see Truth campaigns attacking the Corn Refiners Association like they do the tobacco companies?

If you at a future job, were asked to develop a campaign about something that people digest/inhale and you weren’t sure of the health effects, would you do it?  Is that ethical PR or simply not-so-ethical PR?

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10 Comments »

  1. This is such a great topic for a post. I’m especially glad that you looked up the HFCS people: I had also noticed those ads, and the astroturf-sounding name, but hadn’t yet gotten round to looking them up. So the question remains: is this an industry group trying to combat eroding market share by spreading misinformation, or a fact-based public information campaign? More research is needed, but how many people actually bother to do it on their own to verify the claims made in the ads?

    I look forward to seeing people’s responses.

    Comment by drgilpin — October 2, 2008 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  2. That’s the question, isn’t it? As PR practitioners we have to be aware of what we’re getting ourselves into. I personally wouldn’t jump into a campaign unless I knew the facts. There are simply too many shady promotions out there. And I have seen these commercials on TV regarding high fructose corn syrup and I was so intrigued I immediately visited their Web site just to see if they were really on to something. I guess their campaign is starting to work if it’s stimulating interest like this. To remain ethical it’s important that we never stop questioning.

    Comment by marialinda17 — October 3, 2008 @ 9:43 am | Reply

  3. It is sometimes very difficult to tell if a campaign is based on disseminating real information, or if it is what we call astroturfing. From the other perspective, however, any campaign brought to a PR practitioner needs to be thoroughly researched for background information. But I guess what I’ve really been pondering is, is it ethical to turn down a project, simply because you do not agree with its values or ideals? Obviously if it is promoting illegal activity, or something evidently and substantially harmful, there is real justification in dismissing the project. In the case of HFCS, scientists may still be undecided as to its real effects, so how can we decide that it’s bad for consumers?

    Comment by kakeane — October 6, 2008 @ 3:52 pm | Reply

  4. On this same topic, here’s a recent example: “Blue Astroturf,” the case of a political smear campaign in state-wide politics.

    It’s a good post, but you all should be warned that you would definitely have several points taken off for posting here with that many typos!

    Comment by drgilpin — October 6, 2008 @ 5:07 pm | Reply

  5. I personally would never be part of a campaign where I didn’t know all the facts. If there was a chance that a campaign I was involved in could end up harming people I would back out immediately and do everything in my power to stop it. But there are millions and millions of people out there who are never involved in the process and planning of a campaign and that is why it is important to be a critical listener, and critically analyze media. I remember seeing the high fructose corn syrup commercials for the first time and thinking that I always thought it was bad for you so maybe it isn’t. So I did the same as most people in our profession would do, I looked it up on the internet to find out more details. However, I’m worried that most people won’t do that and won’t try and find the truth and will believe anything they hear on the Television. So once again, I think that people should learn how to be critical listeners when it comes to media.

    Comment by dfishfel — October 6, 2008 @ 7:39 pm | Reply

  6. I think, as with anything in life, it is important to do your research. People are often times too quick to jump to conclusions without fact checking. In PR it is crucial to get the facts straight. If a questionable client comes into play, or a campaign with less than ethical aspects presents itself, it is important to critically anaylze all the elements.

    Astroturfing is an unfortunate practice that has made its way into the PR profession and I think that for the sake of the PR industry, it is up to us to stray away from any unethical standards. Also, as consumers, it is perhaps even more important to know what we are buying into and to be quick to question anything we deem unethical.

    Comment by letsgoblogging — October 6, 2008 @ 8:09 pm | Reply

  7. I like the question that you pose at the end of your blog. It got me thinking a lot about what I would do for a client if my job depended on making them look good, even if they weren’t so good to begin with. I don’t think that I would be able to put a “spin” on something for a client. I think that being ethical as a pr professional will help eliminate all the bad thoughts towards the profession. If not-so-ethical pr is continued to be practiced then soon the profession will lose all credibility and all of us will be out of a job.

    Comment by amyfoley1975 — October 7, 2008 @ 9:55 am | Reply

  8. I know about the commercials you are posting about and I think that they are ethical. High fructose corn syrup is not good for you but it is not going to kill you if you eat it in “moderation,” like the commercial says. Like Prof. Gilpin I do not know if it is a public information campaign or is it an industry group campaign. I think that it is an industry group campaign. Although I am not sure that makes it unethical. If what they are saying is true then I do not see the harm and I would work on that kind of campaign.

    Comment by erikanp2004 — October 7, 2008 @ 11:09 am | Reply

  9. To answer your question I want to say the I definitely would not be a part of a campaign that I don’t know all of the health effects when it could seriously harm people. Which is why I believe PR professionals need to gain all the research necessary before developing a campaign for a product that could be seriously damaging. If they don’t and the product turns out to harm a lot of people, and the company has evidence that this could happen it is going to damage your client’s reputation immensely.
    Astroturfing is an unfortunate side of PR that some professionals do practice, but if everyone did then there wouldn’t be public relations anymore because no one would trust the industry. So I think that there is a code of ethics that most professionals follow, and I will definitely be one of them.

    Comment by mekelly1 — October 7, 2008 @ 11:29 am | Reply

  10. I think that the decision to work for a company that may be practicing unethical behaviors is something people in all lines of work need to address. Everyone makes their own decisions based on what their values and morals are. Public relations specialists are spotlighted since we would be advocating for the company, but nonetheless I think that people in all lines of work decide who they want to work for based on things like this.

    Comment by agilliam — October 7, 2008 @ 3:44 pm | Reply


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