Friday, July 20

Revealing Ethical Realities: PRWeek/MS&L

Some public relations professionals and communicators scratched their heads because I didn't call for the resignation of John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, Inc. despite the obvious: what he did was wrong. Perhaps part of the answer can be found in the PRWeek/Manning Selvage & Lee (MS&L) Marketing Management Survey.

The survey polled 279 U.S. chief marketing officers, directors of marketing and marketing managers that are focused on consumer-generated media, integrated marketing, and industry ethics. Although some of the questions were somewhat phrased oddly (they are paraphrased here), some of the results might surprise you.

• Wal-Mart’s non-disclosure of its authorship of a blog was a breach in marketing ethics. 55 percent agreed.
• Julie Roehm’s acceptance of gifts and dinners from future advertising agencies was unethical. 46 percent agreed.
• Turner Broadcasting placing magnetic lights in Boston that resembled bombs was a breach. 41 percent agreed.
• Microsoft acted unethically in providing Windows Vista on laptops to technology bloggers. 32 percent agreed.

Clearly, there seems to be some confusion over ethics. Originally, I was going to write something about this, but then decided it might be fun to run a poll to see what some readers think first. Which of the following do you think constitutes the greatest breach of ethics? You can vote for only one (and some might not be ethical breaches); we'll share our take on it next week (after the poll closes).

Incidentally, the MS&L survey also revealed that 17 percent of senior marketers say their organizations have bought advertising in return for a news story; 7 percent said their organizations have an implicit/non-verbal agreement with a reporter or editor to see favorable coverage; and 5 percent of marketers said their companies had paid or provided a gift of value to an editor or producer in exchange for a news story about their company or its products.

So much for the notion that all journalists are somehow pre-equipped to make the right ethical decisions. As I have said before, ethics begins with the person and not the profession. Bloggers have an equal opportunity to be ethical and to suggest they cannot, as some people do, only indicates their own propensity to have an ethical lapse.



Sweet Tea on 7/20/07, 11:30 AM said...

Reminds me of a recent discussion about bloggers paying to have comments made on their blog. Is that unethical? For me, yes. Perception for some seems to be skewed towards the unethical. For myself, I have no doubts about my ethics and I truly hope nothing could change that. It's just not about the money.
Great article. Thanks.

Rich on 7/20/07, 12:23 PM said...

Thanks JS,

We keep seeing the same stories resurface in different forms over and over and over again. Personally, I think they are unfairly attributed to social media because they exist outside social media. Maybe when it comes to social media, you're just more likely to be caught.

Bloggers paying for comments? I missed that one; and certainly don't understand the logic. I suppose it might be okay if it's disclosed and if the blogger is paying for a specific opinion.

You're right though. Money comes and goes; reputation will likely stay with you for life.

All my best,

Rich on 7/20/07, 3:36 PM said...

Famous Ethics Questions At MyRagan,

Is it ethical to ask for comments on a client’s blog?

(This is not an ethics question.)

Is it ethical to tap back channels if you encourage people to keep it secret, particularly when you champion authenticity?

(This is not an ethics question, unless you were not supposed to share the information to begin with. I liken it to speaking "off the record.")

And, as Debbie Weil suggested to us, is it ethical to post someone’s email to a blog?

(This is an ethics question. The answer depends on which ethical code you subscribe to. For journalists, the answer is yes. For communicators, the answer the no, unless you notify the person of your intent to publish it.)

Is it any wonder why people are getting confused? As an industry, we're not asking the right questions to get the right answers.

Chaffee Street Cafe` on 7/20/07, 3:57 PM said...

Rich, Did Wal Mart have a Flog or a Blog? I know…I'm silly.

Frankly, I cannot vote because I don't feel I have enough information to fully understand everyone's involvement, to be fair. However, my first inclination is in all likehood Wal-Mart made the biggest unethical move.

I have strong ethics and I do not like underhandedness. I might have just made up a new word. Ha.

Have a surperb weekend.

"Sleeping Kitten - Dancing Dog!"
Come on over for a visit.

Rich on 7/20/07, 4:18 PM said...

You are silly. Just in case others do not know...

fake+blog = flog

No worries on voting. If you are so inclined (and I don't want this to seem like work), you can source 6 of the 8 events by clicking on the labels. I did not write in depth about the Wal-Mart flog or Microsoft laptops.

Still, if general awareness is a factor in being the greatest, then a gut vote is good as any. I have no intention of claiming this to be scientific. It is only meant to be used a conversation starter for next week. Yeah, one of my kooky experiments.

You have a great weekend too!


Geoff_Livingston on 7/21/07, 3:00 AM said...

Consider the source. PRWeek's the same publication that won't run an expose on AC because they think everyone already knows who she is.

The problem with the PR biz is PR people, and that's why we continue to have issues like this. It also explains why people think it's OK to fly in the face of transparency and ethics.

Mackey should resign. What he did was dishonest, unwholesome and not the Safe Way! He's continuing to tarnish the brand with this incident and if the board has any sense, they'll see the even counters the culture.

Rich on 7/21/07, 7:42 AM said...


How do you really feel? :)

Well, I won't say anything about Mackey at the moment, but I will say if there is a problem, it's almost always a few people.

It seems to me that public relations, in general, is attempting to play leapfrog in social media — whomever jumps up with the boldest statement leaps to the front of the class. And, before anyone can blink, someone else leapfrogs in front of them. That’s all fine and good until someone realizes, some 20 leaps later, that the first leap was off a half-an-inch or, um, maybe a mile.

Best, Rich


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