I Fought the Law and the Law Won: How to Be a Law Abiding PR Practitioner

There are several aspects of the law that PR practitioners need to be aware of. Abiding by such laws can determine the extent to which an organization succeeds. They force organizations to be original in how they communicate and brand themselves. They also keep organizations honest.

One law that is very important is defamation. Think PR explains it well, “Traditionally, libel was the term used for a printed falsehood and slander was the term used for an oral statement that was false. Today, as a practical matter, there is little difference in the two, and the courts often use defamation as a collective term for these types of offenses. Essentially, defamation is making a false statement about a person (or organization) that creates public hatred, contempt, or ridicule, or inflicts injury on reputation” (Wilcox, 188). This is why it is vital to check facts and ensure accuracy in your statements.

The book goes on to say, “Actual malice has been defined by the U.S. Supreme Court as making a libelous statement while knowing the information is false or publishing the information with ‘reckless disregard’ as to whether it is false” (Wilcox, 188-189). The bottom line is, be honest because the truth will come out and it will take down any organization that is lifted up by lies.

A person filing a libel suit usually must prove four things:
1. The false statement was communicated to others through print, broadcast, or electronic means.
2. The person claiming to be libeled was identified or identifiable.
3. There was actual injury in the form of money losses, loss of reputation, or mental suffering.
4. The person making the statement was malicious or negligent.

It is also important to recognize that employee emails can be monitored. If someone does not particularly like the organization they are working for, they may cause harm in what they say over email. It is the organizations right to be able to address this for the good of the organization. Also, an employee may pass along emails with content that is not inline with the organizations values and can misrepresent the company. It is for this reason that employees should be informed of what exactly the organizations values are and what they wish to communicate to the public through the influence of each employee. While employees have freedom of speech it is most often best for the organization as well as their own benefit to keep the opinions in house. The exception to this is if there are clear facts that point to an organization breaking laws or putting others at harm.


Department or Firm? Where To Get Your Start In PR

When beginning a new career it is important to set yourself up for a good start. In any career it is important to set yourself up for success by going after the right environment for you to learn, grow, and get to know others. With this comes the question of whether a person should try to get their start in a PR department or a PR firm. Let’s examine the pros and cons of each.

Pros of working for a PR department:

  • You gain a sense of pride and loyalty to a company or organization that comes as you work for it.
  • You may feel greater pressure to perform your job well because it will affect the people you work with day in and day out in the company or organization. This will help you to be a better practitioner.
  • You can work for a company or organization that you really believe in and help to make it even better over the long haul.
  • There are generally good paying salaries, extensive health and insurance benefits, and widespread resources.
  • There is the opportunity to work with a group of professional peers.
  • There is job stability when you work for a PR department.

Pros of working for a PR firm:

  • It can be fun and exciting always working with many different companies and organizations.
  • You have to be sharp and always learning about how companies and organizations run. In other words, it keeps you on your toes.
  • You are exposed to a variety of different clients and a breadth of different strategies.
  • It gives you access to lots of experienced mentors in your field.
  • It increases compradore in the field.

Cons of working for a PR department:

  • There may be a laborious approval process before producing or disseminating information.
  • Management may lack understanding of the PR function.
  • There may be a lack of advancement opportunities.
  • There may be little change in the routine of activities over time.
  • Difficult to obtain without experience.
  • Growth is limited.

Cons of working for a PR firm:

  • There is pressure of working on several projects from different clients at one time.
  • It is difficult to give every client your undivided attention as is often demanded.
  • Many have less time off.
  • Budgets can be limited.
  • The salary could be low at entry level.

I personally would choose to get a start working for a PR firm so that I can be surrounded by many mentors and feel like I am able to learn all the different aspects of PR from the many different challenges that a firm is presented with and the many practitioners who have experience. After learning even more at a firm in a few years, I would try to work for an organization that I want to see succeed.

PR: a licensed profession?

In any profession it is important to that others see you as credible and trustworthy in what you do. This should not be any different when it comes to PR. Like any other profession, specific skill sets are important, and it is important for people to easily be able to recognize that a person has these skill sets. Guided standards are important and give the profession credibility. That is why it would be good to go forward in making public relations a licensed profession.

What does it mean to be a licensed professional?

  1. Professions have standard education requirements (not necessary in PR currently) – PR professionals will need to have at least 4 years of college.
  2. Draw upon a substantial body of knowledge
  3. Requires standardized testing

Licensure would give the public, organizations, and companies more confidence in PR professionals because it would ensure that they are knowledgable. According to Bernay’s education and the development of a vocation go hand and hand. In addition to this, it would protect the profession and integrity and pride in the field. Some may say that PR becoming licensed would puts restrictions on the profession. My reply would be that licensure would not take away the high demand for PR professionals, and there would still be a lot of opportunity in the field. In fact, it could create even more opportunity, especially for women. If it was to become a licensed profession with standards, then it would be easy for a licensed women to argue equal pay and so forth. Also, licensure should increase ethics in the field, which would in turn increase the field’s integrity and cause the public to be more open to listening to companies and organizations through crisis.

For now it will be important for practitioners to seek accreditation, as it is a step towards PR becoming licensed. To date, approximately 5,000 practitioners have earned APR status, or 18% of the PRSA’s membership. Approximately 10% of IABC’s 15,000 members have earned its ABC designation. However, in the words of Bernay’s PR “has reached its rubicon.” Let’s move it forward!

For Edward L. Bernay’s complete argument for why PR should be licensed read his call to action.

The following are organizations that currently work to increase the credibility of the field and train professionals: PRSAPRSSAIABC, and IPRA.

Hobby Lobby Gets Boycotted After Filing Suit Against Obamacare

Hobby Lobby, the popular craft decoration chain, has recently taken action against Obamacare and its requirement to provide insured employees with contraceptive and abortion coverage. Hobby Lobby’s founder and CEO commented on the matter by stating, “We simply cannot abandon our religious beliefs to comply with this mandate… These abortion causing drugs go against our faith.” The suit was filed on September 12th in U.S. district court in Oklahoma City. Lori Windham, the representing attorney for Hobby Lobby said, “They’re being told they have two choices: Either follow their faith and pay the government half a billion dollars or give up their beliefs.”

The crisis that the company now faces is the uprising backlash of groups that are boycotting the chain. 

One way in which PR crisis takes place rapidly is through social media. A Facebook page has been started to boycott the company. In a post to their wall today, they stated, “There’s already 70,000 signatures. We started off with only 12 likes on this page yesterday, and now the boycott is already up to 70,000!!!! Woohoo!!!” This shows how quickly crisis can evolve as people rally together over social media.

In addition to this there has also been a tumblr started in which crafty opposers are showing pictures of their works and voicing their distain towards the companies beliefs.

I could not find a press release so it will be interesting to watch this and see how it plays out. The one statement I found said this, “The Green family respects every individual’s right to free speech and hopes that others will respect their rights also, including the right to live and do business according to their religious beliefs.” This is not a huge crisis, and it is more of a legal case. With that said, I think this was a good statement to put out. They have no reason to give any sort of apology. It would be good, however, to be able to find a more accessible press release from the company in regards to what is going on.

One Facebooker commented, “Religion belongs in a church NOT a workplace,or in strangers lives.” Do you think this is true? While Green may not personally know those employees insured by Hobby Lobby, is he not ultimately their leader and the reason that they have a job there and insurance?

P.R.aise Jesus

PR can be defined as establishing goodwill between the organization and the public. There are many careers in public relations: corporate PR, government PR, an agency. However, there is one that is often overlooked by Christians, yet it is one that can be used to advance the Kingdom of God and bring God all the more glory-this area is ministry PR.

After graduation and for the rest of my life I hope to be in full-time ministry. It is certainly not an area that is exempt from public relations. Churches often face crisis, have to report different things to the congregation, have to be wise in the decisions they make as they interact with the public, and need to consider what they are communicating to the public. In fact, the General Council of the Assemblies of God has a PR department of their own. On their page are a few insightful articles that would be benefit any pastors who do not have communications professional on staff.

In one of the articles, “Is Good Communication Vital To Successful Ministry?“, the AG PR department gives 4 basic steps in establishing an active public relations program:

  1. Determine Your Local Publics. Each church is located in a community with unique demographic and geographic needs. It is important to determine the specific publics in existence around your church.
  2. Examine Your Ministries. What existing ministries would be of interest to specific publics in your community? Do any new ministries need to be established to effectively reach your publics?
  3. Plan Your Efforts and establish a realistic timeline. Determine which publics you are equipped to reach now, and which will need to wait for the training of church members and development of ministries. Next, plan what methods you will use to promote these ministries. Some examples include radio and television ads, Web and e-mail promotion, flyers, bumper stickers, door to door, giveaways and word of mouth.
  4. Execute Your Program. Carry out your plans. As you begin to build bridges between a targeted public and your church with positive relationships, you will open doors to share Christ with that public.

A PR professional should generally be one who wants to be a catalyst for change, writes well, speaks well, and can think quickly.

As someone who plans to be on staff in a ministry, I think I have the qualities to also fulfill PR duties if I seek to always be working on my writing skills. Speaking will naturally be something that I will continue to improve on as I speak in front of a congregation or the public more and more. When it comes to the thinking quickly part, well, I just pray God gives me wisdom and common sense in situations. Ultimately, I have a desire to be a catalyst for change in a community and reach out to people that do not normally attend church. PR is an effective tool in doing so.

Social Media

“In the beginning Tom created the My and the space. Now Myspace was formless and empty, layouts were plain and boring, and Tom was surfing the internet for inspiration.

And Tom said, “Let there be friends,” and there were Myspace friends. Tom saw that friends were good, and separated a select few that he really liked from the others he just knew. Tom called the select few the “top 8” and the others simply remained friends.

And Tom said, “Let there be a bulletin so that we may view each other’s useless info and meaningless surveys.” So Tom made the bulletin and everyone started posting there answers to all of life’s most meaningful questions like the last time they talked on the phone with number 6 on their top 8. And it was so.

And on the 4th day Facebook opened up to all people and everyone forgot about Myspace. And public relations professionals looked upon new social media sites and saw that they were good.”

-Social Media Genesis 1:1-5

While social media started out as a way to connect with friends, it has evolved into much more. Individuals, companies, and organizations have a far greater reach. Communication can happen on a much larger scale at low costs.

Social media may present some challenges, for example having to respond quickly and wisely when negative information goes viral, there are many benefits to being able to use social media for public relations:

  • New relationships can be formed and maintained with people all over who can also interact.
  • It makes it easy to listen.
  • It makes research easier. (Also, measurement tools may be useful.)
  • It’s quick and easy to update.
  • It is a cost-effective option

In “The Future of Public Relations and Social Media” Erica Swallow discusses how “niche, industry-specific networks will be of greater value in the future” than mass social platforms. While Facebook can filter through things like sex, age, location, and what pages people like, so far this is only accessible for advertising. If public relations professionals find different social media sites that are unique to certain demographics it could be very helpful to them.

Also, while a vast majority of the PR people out there are using social media as a broadcasting tool for sending out press releases and recent client news, it will make an even greater difference once PR professionals use social media as a listening and communicating tool.

There is power in social media and it is important for both marketing and public relations professionals to be aware of how social media influences people. The infographic below displays the affects social media has.

Interesting infographic about the role social media has in the power of influence.