Category: JOUR 4470

making fun of human tragedy

I thought everyone had heard of Groupon. I can even remember a friend telling her 70 year old grandfather about the discount website and he replied, “Oh yeah, I have an app for that.” Granted, this grandfather is very trendy haha.

Until now, Groupon had just relied on word-of-mouth marketing with limited traditional advertising. According to Groupon’s blog they had given in and decided to do a television advertisement during the Super Bowl XLV. The company explains the reasons for restraining, “More importantly, television ads are such a huge creative statement, and so hard to do well, that we were worried it’d be near impossible to find an ad agency that could make ads we’d be confident in airing.”

The advertisements aired during the most watched television event in history with 162.9 million viewers. The ads feature two washed up celebrities telling us which cause we should care most about, then morph it into a pitch for Groupon.

There was a firestorm of blog posts and news articles written about Groupon in February about people being outraged that the ad highlighted the difficulty in Tibet. Obviously the company is regretting their decision now that Groupon’s CEO Andrew Mason is blaming the ad agency and saying he put too much trust in them.

A lot of the negativity could have been avoided if the ad explained Groupon’s charitable donation-matching that is listed on their website. It could have made viewers realize the company isn’t poking fun of the issues; they’re trying to raise money to help.

The CEO’s apology and decision to pull the ads was a chance at saving the company’s image, but I really think Groupon’s PR department from here on out needs to step up and be the center of their decision team. If the company doesn’t come out with the right crisis communication actions then it would really damage their business.

But honestly, if you have to post a lengthy explanation of your advertisements on your blog then you might need to ask yourself before releasing it if people are going to get the “joke.” Is there really a right way to make jokes about human tragedy?


so many choices

One would assume the six different public relations code of ethics would be very similar to each other.

The compared codes of ethics were:

  • Arthur Page Society
  • Council of Public Relations Firm
  • Global Alliance for Public Relations and communications Management
  • International Association of Business Communications
  • National Investor Relations Institute
  • Public Relations Society of America

After thorough research I found that some of the codes don’t have a set of standards for several core values, principles and practice guidelines.

The different codes were evaluated on the following principles:

  • Honesty
  • Advocacy/Expertise
  • Independence
  • Loyalty
  • Fairness
  • Free Flow of Information
  • Competition
  • Disclosure of Information
  • Safeguard Confidences
  • Conflicts of Interest
  • Enhancing the Profession
  • Obligation to Code
  • Enforcement of Code

The Arthur Page Society has the least set of standard guidelines. They don’t have any set code for independence, fairness, free flow of information, competition, disclosure of information, safeguard confidences, conflicts of interest, obligation to the code or enforcement of the code. I suppose it’s not to say that any individual that belongs or follows their seven principles to guide actions and behavior are any less ethical than one who follows the PRSA.

The PRSA Code of Ethics supplies you with a more thorough model for professions, organizations and professionals. There is a reason why the PRSA Code of Ethics is referred to as the industry standard. They have a set clear-cut standard for each of the 13 principles. Their codes reinforce their beliefs on making sure you are representing your client fairly and always with the truth.

The Global Alliance was another code that stood out. Not only did they have few guidelines like the Arthur Page Society, their decision on honesty is to “adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interest of the clients and employers” not the public. They were the only code studied that interpreted honesty that way. The Global Alliance also doesn’t have any guideless for the free flow of information. These two points concern me that someone following this code might not be able to make the right ethical decision.

Before doing this research I was under the impression that the PRSA was the only society that enforces their code by educating members for accreditation. I think the fact the International Association of Business Communicators and the National Investor Relations Institute also participate in the implementation of code shows there are more ethical business practitioners than I thought.

After all, these codes of ethics aren’t formal laws or rules they are a set of standards that individuals decided to hold themselves to. None of them are right or wrong, they just provide different perspectives on decision making. Personally, I’m going to follow the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics. I agree with their set standards on professional values, principles of conduct and holding members to an agreement with required compliance.

Learning the philosophical bases for ethical behavior is not an easy task, that’s why there are tools to help. Tools like Harvard philosopher Ralph Potter’s Potter Box and the PRSA Board of Ethics Matrix of Ethical Dilemmas will guide your decision making process. Not that you’re actually going to pull out notes from your college ethics class in real life and draw four squares or look at a matrix to help you decide the right choice, they’re a good method to use in a class setting to help promote your thinking.

The Potter Box is “an ethical framework used to make decisions by utilizing four categories which Potter identifies as universal to all ethical dilemmas.”

The four categories are:

  1. Situation definition
  2. Values
  3. Principles
  4. Loyalties

The real benefit of the model is that it keeps the practitioner from making a quick, unethical decision. After being taught the Potter Box in college, hopefully in real life you will become accustomed to prioritizing the facts, values, loyalties and principles that are most important to your organization in any given situation.  I’m a big list maker, for everything, so even if I’m not making quadrants and instead I’m jotting down bullet points the act of writing things down will help me make a better decision.

Using the Potter Box model in groups during class to discuss a case study helped me realize when two people are analyzing the same issue, they can come up with different decisions. During our class discussion, within our group, we agreed on two different ethical philosophies that helped reason the decision for the situation. We had to go over each category several times to reach a decision and that was very tedious work, especially since we were trying to work as a group.

Overall, I believe the Potter Box theory is tactic you’ll always remember like “FOIL,” or “every good boy does fine.” Besides, you don’t have to work through the Potter Box manually anymore… there’s a website for that

need for ethics

What the majority of humankind thinks is right and wrong isn’t always ethically right. Society can impose certain beliefs on you to the point where they’re almost accepted as normal behavior. At some point in our careers we will face a decision against our moral code and everything will seem blurred.

The fundamental character of a person is formed when they are young and influenced by their guardian or religion. Unfortunately, some people don’t grow up in the best situations and have to learn right and wrong on their own through trial and error. However, I think no matter how you were raised your moral compass will not point due north until you’ve faced a challenging decision and you overcome. It will take years to build your character, but only a moment is enough to ruin it.

Teaching ethics in a university setting when our minds are still young and developing is essential. It keeps the topic active in your conscience when you spring into the business world. Right out of college we’re not going to land a job at top agency’s or corporations (well, just being realistic haha.) This is where we rely on our instructions and mentors to be ethical and pass the chain of goodness along.  As a young professional you will have to work our way through companies who might not have such high standards of truthfulness. As long as we are continually influenced by the right companionship our decisions will stay in the right direction.


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