Category Archives: Truth

Setting the PR Bar in Rwanda

In a recent article from allAfrica.com, public relations professionals are making an effort to regulate the profession there and clean up its reputation. Peter Malinga, president of of the Public Relations Association of Rwanda, asserts that the public relations world has a current “free entry” status in which “failed or re-traded journalists” can thrive. This being the case, the PRAR, a joint private-public sector venture, hopes to align the industry with professionalism and apparently competency.

“[PRAR]‘s main aim, [Malinga] added, is to professionalize the public relations profession, given that its practitioners are often considered to be poor cousins of advertisers’ and event management.”

The organization hopes to “weed out” unqualified people and make the profession something to which people aspire, rather than resort.

At first, I was mildly offended. Only mildly because I wasn’t sure if Malinga and his organization were referring to the Rwandan PR industry rather than the global profession. But I was offended because I think that the skills that make a successful PR professional are disciplines that I am daily honing and – well, at least thinking about.

The article later goes on to focus on the importance of distinguishing between good and bad PR and the need for the former.

And so at this point, I realized: I need to NOT be offended (even mildly) about this and realize that he’s right. There’s plenty of bad PR out there, even if most of the time I associate it with being stimulated by external, “beyond our control” forces. Probably the bulk of bad PR out there is done by PR pros who really aren’t THAT pro.

This is a rallying call for mobilization and engagement. How do we answer?

By striving to be truth-centric and people-oriented. By allowing the industry to be chastized.

“It is in the institution’s interest if it is criticized, since this helps in the correction of different mistakes.”

*Photo courtesy of http://polosbastards.com

Chew Him Up, Spitzer Out: Lessons On Spin From A Pro

What a relief this Eliot Spitzer scandal is! A nice break for journalists trying to peddle the tired story of the growing Clinton-Obama-McCain “we’re good friends, but don’t respect each other’s policies”-triangle. A nice break for readers trying to stay interested in it. Oh! And the blogging opportunities! I can just see a young Christian Bale as a “Newsie” celebrating this latest golden headline and vending his “papes” with renewed vigor. It’s perfect! Here is the champion of decency, steadfastly intolerant of the corrupt and duplicitous among elected public servants, slain by his own silver bullet. Kind of. According Kimberley A. Strassel of The Wall Street Journal, the press are still trying to revive him.

As if this story wasn’t interesting enough, many people are starting to question why he thought he’d get away with it. In a scathing recent article, Strassel asserts that the press acted more like pre-teen NSync groupies when they covered him than like a balanced commentating voice: The unrelenting loyalty of the press is why he thought he could get away with it.

From the article: ‘”You play hard, you play rough, and hopefully you don’t get caught,” said Mr. Spitzer two years ago. He never did get caught, because most reporters were his accomplices.”

“[Gov. Spitzer] played the media like a Stradivarius.” Ouch! She then goes on to cite several cases in which the media not only turned a blind-eye to Spitzer’s indiscretions, but they also praised him for his commitment to the “people’s causes”.

This brings up an interesting point. Is it OK for the press corps to take sides on political movements and candidates? For example: The New York Times endorsing candidates. Is it instances like this that solidify the argument of an opinion-free press? Strassel asserts that one of the most important jobs of the press is to be political watch-dogs. If this is true and the circumstances in the article also true, then the press failed miserably.

Not that it was their fault entirely, according to Strassel. What we have here, is a master of spin. Spitzer knew what the media wanted and he gave it to them. He knew what would grab their attention and he worked it whether it was crusading for causes or feeding journalist friends with insider information.

Are you taking notes all you aspiring celebrity publicists?

…I honestly don’t have much else to say about this. Strassel has delivered the story beautifully and most importantly, thoroughly. All I can do is sit here with my friend Dan and shake my head at my recent discovery of the frailty and vulnerability of the modern press corps, professionals I admire and respect, people who have set standards and examples of excellence that I am instructed, daily, to emulate. What am I, a journalism major, what’s more, a PR major who has to constantly reconcile the needs of a client with social ethics, to take from this?
All I’ve left to conclude is: Britney Spears, if you want to get the media back on your side, call Eliot Sptizer. He’ll probably be looking for a job soon.

This seems brazen. Even before I publish it, I’m nervous to do so. What do I, a student, know about the ways of the world other than what I’ve been told? My idealism hasn’t been truly put to the test. “Oh yeah, Soto? Let’s see if you can find a job when you come down from that soapbox!” I suppose this post is just me needing to know that the pursuit of ethical practices and social responsibility is worth it.

*Image courtesy of http://www.gawker.com

Myspace Is Bald-Faced

The first time I was ever hit on via Myspace message by a guy who was clearly not my age and probably married, was very much like the day I found out there was a person inside the Chuck-E-Cheese costume. Real creepy. It seemed to break a spell since I was a relatively new social media user. I had a live-journal in high-school and was pretty AIM-literate. I was not prepared to find out, however, that people would or even could use the site for false if not predatory means.

This was also around the time that many of my girlfriends were using Photoshop to edit their pictures and they looked good. Suddenly we could be models and random boys from exciting places like Santa Cruz were writing me Myspace messages saying “U look like Eva Longoria. Ur hawt.” And though I knew nothing about these boys besides their bad spelling, I was still quite flattered and definitely hooked on the digital make-overs.

Now that this little demon of my dark past is exposed, I have to say I was quite embarrassed and guilt-ridden when I was listening to NPR’s Bryant Park Project podcast and an interview with Jeff Hancock, associate professor at Cornell University, who has come up with a “method” or at least some hints on how to tell if someone is lying to you in their social media profiles, resumes and other online places where personal info is logged.

According to Hancock in an interview with the Cornell Chronicle, “Most of the work on deception has focused on nonverbal forms of deception. The thinking has been that you can control your speech but you can’t control your nonverbal behavior[body language], and this kind of thinking led to a focus on examining nonverbal cues associated with lying, which is what the polygraph tests.”

Since you generally can’t observe the body language of someone who wrote a blog, Hancock has some theories about how to tell if someone’s lying, one of them being that online-liars tend to take the personal pronoun out of their speech. For example, in a profile sentence, someone would say “Interned in New York” instead of “I interned in New York.” Another way to spot a liar is that they also tend to, according to Hancock, explain and, really, just type a lot in an effort to prove their statement even if proof is not requested.

Much of the research and data collected were from dating sites where singles have something to lose and it is that fear that drives them to lie. The truth could mean unattractiveness but also ostracism from the dating scene. There’s more to this problem, though than just blemish-hiding, over-exposed Myspace and Facebook pictures. If it’s so easy to lie online, then what’s to stop this pattern from seeping into the business side of the internet.

Apparently, it already has. Let’s remember the Edleman and Wal-Mart blog situation that gave all PR bloggers a black eye when their Working Family’s For Wal-Mart blog was outed as a PR blog. CEO Richard Edelman, said, in a blog statement, that they had failed to be completely transparent.

AH! There we have it. Transparency. What do we risk sacrificing by investing in the internet, the promised land of cheap and easy social media opportunities? Transparency. The only upside about this situation is its reciprocity, which is the exact reason why all of my PR instructors here at the University of Oregon say “be transparent, be honest, have integrity in your work, be TRUTHFUL!” Truthful information can be as available on the internet as false information. So if I lie, chances are, people will find out.

In the career world, I feel like I have more to lose as from internet lies than people on dating sites. My professional reputation is at stake. As a student, it’s even more important for me to be purposeful in what I write and publish as fact because I don’t have a solid resume yet to save me from even minor blunders. Caution is vital because one particularly frightening aspect of this situation is that as PR people participate in social media, we are communicating with a world full of tweaked identities and false demographics. This is a bad thing. And if we, too, partake in the opportunity to hide behind the online anonymity, we are contributing to and validating this audience full of phony and fabricated lives which severely limits the capacity of the messages we craft and put out.

In the online PR world, we must value truth as much as we value promotion and buzz. Until we do, we’ll always be trying to rise above stains on our collective professional reputation left by the mistakes and oversights from our colleagues. To me, that sounds exhausting and I have other things I’d rather be doing.

Image courtesy of http://www.gamerandy.com