Showing posts with label ksu. Show all posts
Showing posts with label ksu. Show all posts

Friday, April 4

Fishing With Prices: Target

Lisa Thurmond, a college student who pens a sometimes funny, often satirical, and always interesting blog Lisa’s World, recently helped popularize a camera-phone picture posted by Michael Wesch, a professor at Kent State University, on Digital Ethnography, a student work group blog.

The picture? A “2 for $4.98” offer on Archer Farms organic flatbread at Target. The price for one? $2.49. He posted it without comment. She called it manipulation.

Both posts garnered some interesting reactions and responses. Some comments zero in on consumer psychology: if it looks like a sale, our brain reacts like it is a sale, even when it isn’t a sale. Others, they called it patently unethical and misleading.

Only one person defended Target by calling it marketing” that all mass merchants are employing. Her comment was quickly voted to the bottom.

Well, technically, posting “2 for $4.98” as an advertised price is not unethical. It would require Target to imply that there is a sale as opposed to the consumer inferring that it is a sale. However, resting on that point is about genuine as attempting to redefine what the definition of “is” really is.

The bottom line for marketers? It doesn’t really matter whether “2 for $4.98” is ethical or not. If your price point offer is irritating customers, being technically right could cost you more than being theoretically wrong.


Wednesday, March 7

Taking Oaths: Kent State University

As even a part-time instructor at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, I am required by the state of Nevada to take an oath (among other things). In fact, that is what I did today after mine could not be located. It is no big deal: I've signed similar state forms and oaths before (I'm also an appointed state commissioner, among other things) and I have yet to come across any document that would give me pause.

Today's oath read like this: "I [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support, protect and defend the Constitution and Government of the United States, and the constitution and government of the State of Nevada, against all enemies, whether domestic or foreign, and that I will bear true faith, allegiance and loyalty to the same, any ordinance, resolution or law of any state notwithstanding, and that I will well and faithfully perform all the duties of the office of [insert title] on which I am about to enter; (if an oath) so help me God; (if an affirmation) under the pains and penalties of perjury."

And as I put my thumbprint in the notary's book to confirm my signature to this oath, it occurred to me that maybe, just maybe, such an oath might prohibit me from contributing information (news) or opinions (specifically sympathies) to a terrorist blog (not that I would want to anyway), given most terrorists (at least the 100 plus named on Terrorist Exclusion List posted over at Kent State University) would fall under "all enemies, whether domestic or foreign."

From what I could find at a glance (I didn't look very hard), Kent State University (KSU) does not have a similar oath on file with its human resources department. However, it does have a document in accordance with section 2909.34 of the Ohio Revised Code, which asks: Have you committed an act that you know, or reasonably should have known, affords "material support or resources" to an organization on the U.S. Department of State Terrorist Exclusion List?

Hmmmm... I'm not sure how I feel about this given by all accounts, despite some less desirable points of view, I have been told one of the professors there is a fine teacher. Not to mention, I also believe very strongly in our Constitution (if you're unfamiliar with it, you'll notice it comes before our government, even in the oath I presented above), including and especially the First Amendment (and the Second Amendment, which is about the only way you can ensure the First).

Anyway, it used to be, in this country, that taking an oath or signing a contract was pretty important stuff. It doesn't seem so as much today. Sure, I take them seriously, which is why I have passed on high paying accounts that violated my ethical standards (The Yucca Mountain Project and B.U.M. Fights among them). But the reality is that oaths, contracts, promises, and vows are just not important to some people. Or perhaps they are, at least while it serves them, to be broken at their leisure.

All of this brings me back to the accountability equation that revolves around Dr. Pino at Kent State University. At minimum, it seems to me, Dr. Pino may have surrendered some of his rights when he went to work for the government by signing the aforementioned contract (as we all do in one form or another), including: willfully supplying written material to purported terrorist blogs, I imagine. And at the very least, KSU might remind Dr. Pino of section 2909.34 of the Ohio Revised Code or perhaps ask him to re-sign it if he can. That might even be the remedy beyond simply asking that everyone forget it.


Monday, March 5

Pushing Ignorance: Julio "Assad" Pino

Last week, Julio "Assad" Pino, an associate professor at Kent State University (KSU), came under fire for posting on the now-defunct "Global War" blog (, a Web site purported to support al-Qaida, the Taliban, militant Palestinians, and opened "Are You Prepared for Jihad?"

Plenty of journalists and bloggers have covered the story, including: Markedmanner, which lists a collection of media and social media links related to Pino's history as well as the current story; and Bill Sledzik, an associate professor in the School of Journalism & Mass Communication at KSU, on ToughSledding. Sledzik does his usual splendid job at dissecting the public relations aspects of crisis communication endured by KSU, including potential consequences such as "a handful of students will likely choose a different school next fall, and a few alumni may not send their checks this year."

At a glance, the surface story doesn't leave much left to write about. Peel back even one layer and you'll find a mountain of misconceptions and social media lessons that cannot be covered in a single post. This post, perhaps the first, specifically focuses on Pino's apparent ignorance of communication, academics, and history, one of the subjects he teaches.

Misconception 1: The First Amendment
When criticized for posting on the site, Pino claimed that "the Web site is not the issue - freedom of speech is the issue." This is not true. Although there is a petition being circulated to remove him from KSU, no one has attempted to silence or censor Pino's extreme and misguided views that I am aware of. In fact, given Pino refused interviews on CNN, Fox, and other media outlets, he seems to be his only censor.

Misconception 2: The Privacy Issue
As many executives, public figures, bloggers, and others sometimes claim, Pino attempts to use privacy as a protective shield, but only after his err in judgment is made public. Privacy in this case is invalid. Like anyone who addresses a public forum or publishes anything, Pino willfully surrendered his right to privacy the moment he took his views public. If you want to remain private, then remain private.

Misconception 3: Professor Privacy
Post-secondary education is a semi-public profession by its very definition. Unless you work exclusively within the research department or perhaps as an administrator (and even then, you have no guarantee your views will remain private), the very function of a professor is to facilitate the sharing of ideas and knowledge among a public audience (students) within the context of specific subject matter.

Misconception 4: Professor Privilege
The United States has traditionally been sympathetic to shielding those who hold extreme views within our education system, particularly in post-secondary education. However, most of these professors are sensitive to the fact that, by the very nature of their positions, their opinions carry more weight. The best professors spend more time telling their students "how to think for themselves" not "what to think." According to one account, Pino singled out and compelled a Jewish student to give the class lectures on Judaism and Zionism, which he followed up with inviting a guest speaker to refute the student's discussion.

Misconception 5: Forum Credibility
Writers, authors, and educators should always be mindful of their publishers (print or online), regardless of their story's context. While it might be appropriate to pen an opposition piece for a publication with an opposing viewpoint, it does not make sense to write ongoing supportive, or neutral "news" articles as Pino now claims, for a publication that endorses terrorism. The lesson: penning articles for a publication that encourages Jihad when supposedly you do not support Jihad (as Pino now claims) is unethical at worst and unduly increases the credibility of the publication at best, especially if you reference your credentials, which are an extension of your employer.

Misconception 6: Employer Credibility
Professors may benefit from having a greater appreciation for their employers, because, as noted, a professor's credibility is often an extension of where they teach. Pino's new claim that his views do not represent the university, after the fact, is disingenuous. On the contrary, he used his position to establish credibility on the Web site, which means he linked the school to his personal views. As an alternative analogy, one might conclude that you can be a vegetarian and work at McDonald's, but your employer does not have to retain you if you attend beef protests, especially if you represent yourself as a McDonald's employee in uniform.

Misconception 7: Misplaced Accountability
Pino has taken the position that he does not have to answer for what he wrote nor should he be held responsible or accountable for his public statements, leaving his employer, a taxpayer-funded educational institution, to bear the burden of the costs associated with crisis communication, public relations, and potential loss of credibility and revenue. He unjustly damaged not only himself and his employer, but possibly the entire faculty.

Misconception 8: Misdefining Martyrdom
Pino frequently demonstrates a severe misunderstanding of the term martyrdom, which he has professed can be attached to suicide bombers. This is grossly inaccurate. Martyrs are people who have their lives taken from them by others with an oppressive viewpoint, not someone who takes the lives of others to promote an oppressive viewpoint. The victims of terrorism (or extreme government oppression for that matter) are martyrs, not those who willfully steal the life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness of others. All nations and many factions have participated in such theft at one time or another, Muslim nations and non-Muslim nations alike. Few of us are proud of every aspect of our country's past, but we must remain vigilant in our quest to one day prevent mistakes and tragedies from reoccurring rather than obsess in our regret over things that were beyond our control or the national past that we inherited (I think our country's net sum is pretty darn good). Likewise, I do not believe it is wise to glorify those who target non-combatants as suicide bombers do. Americans weep for their children as much as Muslims do, Mr. Pino.

All in all, Tim Roberts' comments on ToughSledding are among the best anywhere: "The lesson learned here is when you write or say something as inflammatory as he did, you better be prepared for a reaction as strong or stronger. That is a human nature issue, not a freedom of speech issue. Pino is suffering the consequences of his own poor judgment. He is a victim of his own bravado."

Roberts is right. In addition, from my personal perspective, it seems to me that Pino would be happier pursuing another career choice, given that he has recklessly and needlessly damaged his employer's and colleagues' credibility without so much as an apology for his actions. I certainly do not advocate the threats he has received, but Pino should accept some responsibility as he has indirectly, perhaps directly, supported threats and action against others.

In sum, Pino is certainly entitled to his privacy and divergent viewpoints. However, one might wonder how long a professor may be allowed to ignite fires that he has no intention of putting out, unless of course, they threaten to burn him.

Partial kudos to the public relations team at KSU. However, I agree with several industry experts that it is wishful thinking that an employer can defend an employee with Pino's track record and not be linked to the story, especially when the employee advocates hatred toward his employer. KSU's crisis communication also comes up short in outlining any real remedy to the situation.

I submit that Sledzik may be right that most crisis communication tends to be similar to an earthquake (not his words, precisely). However, I am beginning to see more evidence to suggest the advent of social media has a greater propensity to act like a tsunami. The reality of public relations in today's world is that there is no longer a single epicenter; last week's quake could become next month's disaster several thousand miles away. And then, the shock wave may roll right back again.


Friday, March 2

Failings In Public Relations: Kent State

Although Bill Sledzik admits the early work is exploratory (conducting 938 self-selected survey participants and 54 in-depth interviews), preliminary results of a Kent State University/BurellesLuce survey are disturbing. Seventy-two percent of public relations professionals do not have a formal system for monitoring the blogosphere. Initial findings include:

• 72.3 percent of respondents say they have no formal procedure for monitoring the content of blogs that may impact their businesses (8 percent aren’t sure).
• 18.5 percent say they work for organizations that use their own blogs to facilitate communication with key stakeholders.
• Of the 18.5 percent of organizations that use blogs: 78.3 percent use blogs to connect with customers and end users; 42.8 percent to reach news media; 39.8 percent to communicate with employees.
• Of those who use blogs in their PR strategies: 63.2 percent use them to enhance branding efforts; 57.1 percent to facilitate two-way communication with key stakeholder groups; 46 percent to improve trust between those groups and the organization.
• 16.5 percent of respondents say they are aware of existing employee blogs that discuss work-related activities, but very few actually monitor those blogs.
• 10.7 percent of respondents say they have a formal policy related to employee blogging.

According to Sledzik, public relations pros do not monitor blogs because: 1) no budget for staff or services to do the job; 2) no perceived need to do the job. “It hasn’t been an issue,” one respondent said of blogs. “Right now it is not impacting our organization,” said another. Some expressed concern that blog monitoring is a complex and time-consuming process.

Given the amount of apparent social media ignorance among public relations practitioners who don't seem to have time to subscribe to "Google alerts" for their clients, among other "complex" tasks, I have to agree 100 percent with Sledzik that this thinking has "the potential to bite them in the backside."

It's doubly true when you consider that social media is becoming more influential over traditional media than so-called paid public relations practitioners. Hmmm... maybe the signs outside the some doors should read "media relations," assuming they know the difference. Then they can get back to calling reporters to pitch a lunch date in lieu of sending out another poorly written release with a clear conscious.

Sorry if I sound harsh here, but I strongly believe that companies should know: if your public relations firm is not monitoring social media, then the firm is not doing its job. We're not a public relations firm and we monitor social media for our clients (and most don't even know it). It's common sense.


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