Category Archives: Ethics

Cinematic Savvy: The Dark Knight

The Cinematic Savvy series is designed to explore themes and ideas from certain films. Inspiration can be drawn from characters, their quotes, their circumstances, historical approaches depicted – it’s my blog, I’ll take it where I get it. I love film and I love PR. Let’s see how they influence me.

Come on. You knew it was coming. This blog started out with a post about Batman so why shouldn’t the franchise be included in the “Cinematic Savvy” series?

Now, this was an incredibly delicate situation. Heath Ledger was already inspiring much anticipation for the film before his death. Reports of his extensive and seemingly obsessive preparation for the role were rampant. His death only heightened that anticipation, enlarging and redefining the audience to movie-goers who might not be interested in the story, but would absolutely go to see the actor’s last film.

In my first post, Saving Face, I addressed the question of how publicity for the Dark Knight should continue, giving the film the publicity and energy it needed while still respecting the actors death for what it was, a death and not an opportunity on which to capitalize.

PRWeek, in an effort to not only answer that original question, took it a step further and asked what the result was. In an article asking whether or not the publicity campaign for the Dark Knight was a hit or miss, called it a hit attributing its success to the ‘posthumous Oscar debate’ which ultimately drove attention to the dead actor and his performance rather than to the overall genius of the film all the while driving massive profit.

Another lesson in reputation management, crisis management and ethics all at the same time for this PR novice.


Schizophrenic 2.0

Like The West Wing and Subway sandwich punch-cards (I recently learned they brought them back) the Bryant Park Project,  so many good things in life come to an end: In my case, college. In the midst of finishing final projects, studying for finals and saying goodbye to life as a student, I have been eagerly and frantically looking for housing as I relocate to the Bay Area. I’m already anticipating the repercussions of this huge change: distance from friends and family, a busier, fast-paced lifestyle, a much more steady income, less sleep, more reading, less homework, more client work.

There is one aspect of this situation that I hadn’t considered prior to reading Todd Defren’s post entitled “The Secret Life of Runners.” In this post he brings up an important issue: talking about client work on company or personal blogs. As far as my blog goes, I’ve never held much back. It’s been a log of my PR experience and discoveries as well as a personal manifesto as to my intentions for PR (to treat it like a lady, of course).

This blog has been a very successful resource for finding ways to not only join the conversation, but also to ask questions and get them answered by PRos. To say that this blog has been merely instrumental in where I am headed as a recent graduate and practitioner-on-the-verge would be a gross understatement so – I hardly intend to abandon it and the further lessons that could be gleaned from continuing to maintain it.

My question is, where’s the line? Can I afford to discuss my work in an anonymous way in a Web 2.0 world where to join the conversation is to, essentially, have a strong web presence and thus have your job, your work, your personal profile easily accessible? Do I refrain from discussing whatever career/life lessons I learn on this blog? Do I sacrifice my transparency by being secretive about my work? Does it benefit my client at all from any discussion I might have on them?

Any insight would help here, I’m having trouble with this one.

The Legacy of a “Lonely Girl”

The producers of the YouTube phenomenon vlog of “Lonelygirl15” and Kate Modern are launching a production company called Eqal that calls itself Social Entertainment. From their website they say they’re incorporating the best of traditional narrative and online interactivity. At the site you can watch their intro which seems to be a montage of their futurer shows. They’re very Cloverfield-eque, seemingly done from home-video cameras. The shows themselves, according to the Eqal are driven by the participation of their viewers.  It’s “community-generated” content, rather than studio-produced. Neat idea – capitalize off of the YouTube trend.

So, with this new ripple in the Social Media Stratosphere, what does this mean for PR? Can the public relations industry approach this medium in a ethical and efficient way?

Since viral content and especially videos have become such a staple in the public relations arsenal, we can only assume that this, too, will become a weapon of choice… er-not to put too violent a connotation on PR tactics.

Regarding Eqal, though, they may be on to something. As their name suggests, there exists the same amount of reciprocity in this medium as in most social media outlets: Users and viewers see the fruits of their own participation.

Let’s just hope this, like most other forms of social media, promotes, respects and contributes to transparency, more than the original inspiration, Lonelygirl15, did.

Setting the PR Bar in Rwanda

In a recent article from, 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

Platonic PR?

This last Winter term, I took a Classics class. It was the first of its kind, comparing Plato’s The Republic and the writings of Mencius, the Chinese philosophical follow-up to Confucius. In my first class, I felt rather like an anchor had been attached to my foot and I was drowning in knowledge and readings I didn’t understand, while the rest of the class was calmly treading water at the surface, basking in the light of their knowledge – I’d never taken a Classics course, much less anything remotely to do with Greek or Chinese history or thought. I was terrified. But as I took in the writings of these two great thinkers and floated to the surface to join the others, one major theme plagued me as a communicator (Journalism major): Plato condemned Greek poetry and the poets.

Plato’s beef with poetry was that, in ancient Greece, poetry and mythology and the stories of Odysseus and the Greek gods encouraged the Greek people to engage in and invest in lives of amorality and baseness. Greek mythology, like MTV is full of self-centered gods who abide by no one’s rules but their own. The problem is, to continue this metaphor, that there were no other channels like CNN, C-Span, Discovery or TLC to encourage true knowledge and goodness. So if an audience is only getting MTV, that sure as hell entertains you, but doesn’t encourage its audience to better themselves, what conclusions should be drawn about life? It’s poetic and epic, but does it foster goodness?

This was a little convicting, because in the journalism school, out of all of the focuses – news-ed, magazine, broadcast, electronic media, etc. – public relations majors, and probably advertising, seem to be the poets of the school. What would Plato think of public relations professionals and the industry as a whole?

Is there such a thing as Platonic PR?

I suppose this could be, more or less, conceived as a question of ethical PR, but it’s more than that. Public relations writers craft messages that are pleasing to our audiences and our clients: we highlight positive information and find ways to hide or spin negative information. We tap into the vehicles that will best carry our messages to our publics.

The first thing that came to my mind was non-profit PR and what I’m doing for my internship. My team is working on a local account that creates curricula for new and young parents in order to foster low-stress home environments and eliminate child abuse and neglect. The greater good, right? Sounds very Platonic. We’re using our poetic skills to strategically create awareness for our client.

But is Platonic PR limited to non-profit organizations and charity causes? Can it encroach upon the corporate, for-profit realm?

I’m going to go with: YES.

Like I said, avoid calling this “ethical” PR, because you can do celebrity or Exxon Mobile reputation management and still play by the rules. Platonic PR seems to me to reach beyond just ethicality to help a client strive for the greater good and act with with justice and truth and the idea of the “good beyond being” in mind. I realize that the “good beyond being” means just that – it’s beyond being and unattainable. But I don’t think it’s a waste of time to try. As Shakespeare and Hallmark cards prove, poetry can be used to educate and stimulate goodness in a society.

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