In life (and marketing), there are two types of people

The recent spate of stories about air rage and fights between passengers breaking out over cramped seats and seatbacks being reclined reminds me that there are two types of people in the world.

The type who think, “I can, so I will. And to heck with you.”

And the type who think, “I can, but I shouldn’t, because I care about how this will affect you.”

493172635Look into the mirror. Which type of person do you see? Now think about how your coworkers, family, friends see you. Stretch a little further. Think about how the driver in the next car or on your morning commute or rushing to jump in the elevator with your before the doors close. Which type of person do they see?

This dichotomy extends into the world of marketing. It marks the difference between the traditional, “push it in your face, turn the volume of commercials up, spam the heck out of your email box” advertiser and the “I’ll only contact you if you give me permission and I know I have to earn that permission each and every time you have contact with me” type of digital marketer.

In the day to day world, there are two types of people. The type who slam their seat back in your lap because just don’t care about the passenger behind them and the type who resist that temptation because they know it will cramp you.

There are two types of marketers. There’s the type who say, “I can because I have the budget to be able to shout at you. And to heck with you.”

But there’s also the type who say, “I have the budget, but I will use it in a way that delights you, attracts you, and makes you want to come to me.”

Look in the mirror. Which type of marketer do you think you are? Now think about your customers and the people you would like to be your customers. Which type of marketer do they see when they look at you?

Which type of person and marketer would you rather be?

Outside payments to journalists and independent, impartial Journalism at the CBC: A definitive guide

CBC News is in the throes of a crisis of conscience about the previously-undisclosed practice of its journalists to accept paid speaking engagements from organizations that are frequently covered in the news.

This episode has been driven by coverage by bloggers and online news sources. Thanks to their pressure and complaints from the public, CBC has initiated an internal review of its policies and CBC’s Ombudsman already has weighed in urging CBC management to change the current practice and either adopt a higher standard of disclosure or ban outside payments.

Who said what

This story may be about simple principles. But it has been complex in its unfolding, with a number of players speaking out over time.

Sifting through the sources and arguments can be time consuming. But it is worth doing. So, to help readers get up to speed quickly, I’ve compiled a list of what I consider to be the primary sources with key content excerpted and brief explanatory notes where required.

I hope you find this helpful in understanding how this issue has unfolded.

The story about Rex Murphy breaks

Rex Murphy and big oil: friends with benefits?Press Progress

If you Google the heck out of Murphy’s name, you’ll discover that he’s Newfoundland’s most eligible keynote speaker at oil, gas and mining industry events all across the country. Since 2009, Murphy has been spotted or booked at the podium as a keynote speaker not once, not twice, but at least 25 times.

Big Oil knows what they’re getting with Murphy because the National Speakers Bureau, which negotiates Murphy’s speaking fees, includes a snippet of his friendly views with an embedded YouTube video in his profile. It’s called “Rex Murphy of CBC’s Point of View Rips into Environmentalists.”

Rex Murphy energy speech in Alberta, November 2013Youtube user Gazzornenplat

Rex Murphy, the oilsands and the cone of silenceAndrew Mitravica

In early January, I started researching the number and content of speeches that Rex Murphy has made about the oilpatch and the petroleum industry generally.

I found that Murphy has made several speeches to oil-friendly audiences who lap up his cheerleading about the industry and his wisecracks about Neil Young, environmentalists and do-nothing Easterners, including his CBC colleagues.

…I was wondering how responsible CBC News executives were in permitting Murphy to disparage Young and other oilsands opponents on the public airwaves without informing viewers that he had championed that very development in a so-called ‘speech’ several weeks earlier.

On January 30, I provided a lengthy list of questions for Murphy and the CBC respectively to Corey Black, a CBC News publicist. The questions concerned Murphy’s speaking fee, the speech’s content and journalistic probity…

I also requested an on-the-record interview with Murphy and a senior CBC news journalist. Six days later, on February 5, Black informed me that Murphy had “declined” to be interviewed. … Black never answered my questions. Instead, he bounced me to another CBC media relations guy, Chuck Thompson.

In a cryptic February 6 email, Thompson referred me to a short blog post by Jennifer McGuire, CBC News editor-in-chief, that — according to him — “addressed the matter” and my many questions.

McGuire’s post is dated — you guessed it — February 6. It is a hollow, self-serving bit of exculpatory nonsense that limply suggests that because Murphy enjoys a “freelance relationship” with the CBC, neither he, nor the CBC, has a duty or responsibility to disclose that he’s likely pocketing money from powerful outside vested interests on subjects that he rails about on the CBC.

McGuire’s note is also the cynical product of a bait-and-switch: Find out details from a reporter about the pending story’s potentially embarrassing focus, then “get out in front” of it to suggest that you’ve already “addressed” the issue. (McGuire also refused to be interviewed.)

A Question of ConflictJennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief, CBC News

The most important thing to understand is that Rex is not a regular reporter. He appears on The National as a commentator precisely to do analysis and offer his point of view on issues of the day. His work has to be approved by editors at The National and has to meet a clear and straightforward threshold: that it be rooted in fact and experience, not just opinion or kneejerk ideology. But taking a provocative stand is what we pay him to do.

As much as Rex is identified with the CBC, he is not a full-time employee of the CBC. We have a wonderful freelance relationship that allows him to appear on The National and host CBC Radio One’s Cross-Country Checkup. As a freelancer, Rex has the ability to do other work. So yes, he writes opinion pieces for The National Post. And yes, he does speaking engagements.

He is not alone. Other prominent CBC personalities are freelancers, too. When they’re not at CBC, people such as David Suzuki and Bob McDonald have more freedom to express their views in ways that full-time journalists at CBC News do not. Our regular staff abides by rules in our Journalistic Standards and Practices which state that “CBC journalists do not express their own personal opinion because it affects the perception of impartiality and could affect an open and honest exploration of an issue.”

The bottom line is that we are comfortable with the rigour of our policies, our editorial procedures, and our editorial leaders. And while it’s fine for people to challenge his views, I want to say explicitly that we’re comfortable with the content Rex has done for The National and Cross-Country Checkup, and we’re confident about his independence – his point of view is his own.

This issue reminds us of the benefits of being more transparent with our audience. We are working on that all the time …. And we’ve already launched an active discussion about what information the audience should expect to have about the outside activities of our journalists.

Rex Murphy is paid by the oilsands and the CBC won’t disclose or discuss itJesse Brown – Download Canadaland podcast episode

How much money have Oil Sands companies paid to Rex Murphy? When did the CBC and The National Post learn of this? Why won’t Rex Murphy answer questions about this? Why won’t the The National disclose his relationship, when they’ve disclosed lesser conflicts of interest in the past? What’s going on at The National anyhow? How could they possibly think this is okay, or that nobody would notice?

Speaking my mind, no matter the issueRex Murphy

I’ve given a lot of talks — perhaps more than a thousand. … And yes, I often get paid for my bon mots — usually more than a dollar.

Curiously, during all those encounters, spanning (sadly for me) five decades — I have not had so much as a single suggestion that anything I have said anywhere during that long saga was anything but my own words, flowing from my own motivations, and not opinions “for hire” to whomever I spoke.

Not once … till now. I value independence of thought and expression, intensely. If my thoughts are not my own, they are nothing.

Yet some bloggers now are questioning my commitment to that principle, thanks largely to a talk I gave recently to Business Forum, a gathering sponsored by the Calgary-based Bennett Jones law firm, featuring oil executives, First Nation leadership, premiers of Alberta and New Brunswick, and delegates from over the world.

In my speeches, I have a few goals. I try to give a good effort. I try to be interesting, sometimes even reach for humour. But what I absolutely guarantee is that what opinions people hear from me are mine. … I have never on television, in a column or in a speech said, written or delivered any views other than my own and what I actually believe. That’s my practice and I don’t much intend to change.

Jonathan Kay defends Rex MurphyJesse Brown Download podcast episode

Rex Murphy won’t answer questions about taking Oil Sands money , but his editor, The National Post’s Jon Kay, will.

The CBC responds to my complaint about Rex MurphyLorne Warwick

Lorne Warwick published the text of a letter he received from Jack Nagler, CBC’s Director of Journalistic Public Accountability and Engagement, in response to Warwick’s complaint, in which Nagler says:

While I don’t believe there is a conflict of interest, there is a serious issue about transparency, one that we are reviewing at the moment.

the very reason Mr. Murphy appears on The National is to do analysis and express his point of view – he is not a regular reporter. We even call his segment on the program “Rex Murphy’s Point of View” to distinguish it from regular reports. His perspective on the oilsands, whether viewers agree with it or not, is an analytical argument based on facts, and is perfectly valid commentary

the most important consideration for us is whether we are providing our audience with a varied and balanced perspective on an issue as important as oilsands development – and I believe we are. You may note that Mr. Murphy’s “Point of View” segment criticizing Neil Young was a response to a feature interview The National aired with Mr. Young two days earlier. 

In policy and practice we support the idea of transparency, not just for Rex Murphy but for all of our contributors. But implementing this is not always as simple as it sounds.

There are a set of complicating factors, ranging from how much we can legally demand of our freelancers, to privacy rights of our employees, to what constitutes “full disclosure”. Is it only paid speeches we should disclose? Or do we need to be concerned about journalists who attend charity events, or moderate a public forum? Does the content of a speech matter, or does the mere act of getting in front of a lectern make it a question of public concern? And finally, how do we share the disclosure so the audience can properly judge for themselves what’s appropriate?

All are good questions. In light of your concerns and those of others about Mr. Murphy, our senior editors are reviewing the way we deal with the issue to ensure we are appropriately transparent with our viewers. I expect that review will be completed in the next few weeks. When it is we’ll be sure to post it.

Peter Mansbridge is drawn into the debate

CBC reviews Rex Murphy oil conference speech but ignored when Peter Mansbridge did hisDean Skoreyko

205141_10151564635569202_1238184971_n

CBC editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire has created an unintentional problem for the CBC after bending to the anti-oil sands lobbyists complaining about Rex Murphy’s oil conference speech (see here) – a can of worms immediately comes to mind.

First, McGuire has fully opened-up the media’s dirty little secret of journalists hiding their lucrative speaking gigs and potential conflicts of interests and secondly, how the CBC didn’t have an issue when their Chief Correspondent and The National anchor did the exact same thing.

 

Peter Mansbridge Was Paid By Oil and Gas Lobby For SpeechMichael Bolen

The Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP) paid Mansbridge to speak at its Investment Symposium in December 2012 and a photo of him giving the address on how “energy has moved to the forefront of news: economic, environment, safety” was posted to the group’s Facebook page.

CBC spokesperson Chuck Thompson confirmed to HuffPost Canada that Mansbridge received permission from the public broadcaster to speak at the CAPP event and clears all his speaking engagements with the senior news team.

“Peter is encouraged by management to speak on a regular basis, it’s part of an outreach initiative in place for many of our hosts that ensures CBC News and in this case our Chief Correspondent is talking to Canadians in communities across the country,” Thompson said in an email.

“The content of those speeches is always about putting CBC News coverage into context and explaining what we do and how we do it but Peter never offers up his opinion or takes a position on anything that’s in the news.”

Oilsands Group Confirms Paying Peter MansbridgeJesse Brown, Canadaland

The Oil Sands is perhaps Canada’s most controversial and divisive news topic, with competing interests constantly vying for positive media exposure and public sympathy. As the CBC’s Chief Correspondent and anchor of their flagship national news broadcast, Mansbridge exerts undeniable influence over what Oil Sands stories The National covers and how it covers them. The fact that he has been moonlighting for the energy industry  is a clear (and undisclosed) conflict-of-interest.

Speaking of Speeches…Peter Mansbridge

I give about 20 speeches a year. … Many of the appearances, about half on average, I do with no fee involved. They are charities or journalism schools. The rest are handled by my speech agency, the same one that handles requests for many other journalists in this country and in the United States. In those casesa fee is negotiated between the agency and the group who want me to appear at their function. In some of those cases I donate part of the fee to a local charity; in some others I donate all the fee. And in still others I keep my share of what the agency has negotiated.

I don’t offer my opinion on matters of public policy or on certain divisive issues that often dominate the news. … I make it clear to all those who ask me to speak, whether it’s for a charity or not, that I will stick to what I know best – journalism.

Ever since I first started giving speeches, back in the mid-1980s and at the corporation’s request, senior management has approved who I speak to and are aware when I receive a fee and when I do not. Bottom line – I follow the rules and the policies the CBC has instituted governing journalists making public appearances.

I am a journalist and a public broadcaster but that doesn’t mean I’m not entitled to activities in my private life.

Peter Mansbridge receives speaking fees from oil industry group, CBC As It Happens

The CBC’s Chief Correspondent Peter Mansbridge has received payment for speaking at an event organized by the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers (CAPP). Questions about possible conflict of interest and ethics were raised when CBC President Hubert Lacroix took questions yesterday from the Senate Communications committee in Ottawa.

We requested interviews with Peter Mansbridge and Rex Murphy today. They weren’t available for an interview. Neither was CBC’s editor-in-chief Jennifer McGuire.

Debating the ethics of journalists & paid speaking engagements, CBC The Current

We did ask CBC’s General manager and Editor in chief, Jennifer McGuire, to participate in this conversation. Ms. McGuire declined, and no one else from CBC management was made available. Ms. McGuire said CBC is now reviewing its policies and she would be happy to comment once that process is complete.

 You’ve Still Got Some Explaining to Do Mr. MansbridgeAndrew Mitrovica

 Mansbridge, like Murphy, continues to duck the issue at the heart of this growing controversy: disclosure.

Full disclosure means precisely that — providingall the relevant details, and not just to pesky journalists but to the audience as well, so they can judge and decide for themselves whether the fact that a journalist accepts money to speak from outside interests affects his or her reporting and editorial decisions.

I think Mansbridge and Murphy owe their audience and the profession full disclosure, without reservation, of how much they have made and who has paid them to speak.

CBCecrets: Mansbridge’s Oil Pay Makes the NewsJesse Brown – Download the podcast episode

Who broke the news that Peter Mansbridge has been paid by the oil industry? How did the story break through from social media to online press to the mainstream media? Who has dared to cover it at the CBC? Why is this such a fucking big deal? Why won’t CBC News talk to CBC Radio? Should journalists stop doing paid speaking entirely?

CBC’s Ombudsman releases her review of the situation

Review findings re Conflict of InterestEsther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

The corporate policy provides a number of guidelines. The first is: No conflict should exist or appear to exist between the private interests of CBC/Radio-Canada employees and their official duties.

Whether there is a real or only an apparent conflict of interest, in matters of journalistic integrity it amounts to the same thing.

When journalists get paid to speak to powerful advocacy groups, it is hard to argue that this does not lead to a perception of conflict of interest. … CBC management must decide and be very clear about how that perception of conflict will be dealt with. … disclosure will go some way to mitigate the concern about this issue.

…since taking money leads to a perception of a conflict of interest, CBC management might want to consider, in the review they are undertaking, whether even with disclosure, it is appropriate for CBC news and current affairs staff to get paid for their speaking engagements. … At the least, management should think about the appearance of getting paid by interest groups who are likely to feature prominently in the news, or who are involved in public policy debates.

Given that Journalistic Standards and Practices spells out a commitment to independence, and the Conflict of Interest guidelines encompass perception of conflict as well, it is inconsistent with policy when CBC news and current affairs staff accept payment from groups that are likely to be in the news. To summarize, in the course of reviewing its policy, I hope CBC management will reconsider the practice of paid speaking engagements for its journalists and, at a minimum, consider how any relevant activity and payment can be on the public record.

CBC Policy on Conflict of Interest and Journalists, CBC

To preserve that independence, all employees involved in the creation of content that is subject to Journalistic Standards andPractices must carefully consider what organizations they are publicly associated with.

CBC Should Banish Paid SpeechesFrank Koller

…most importantly, there is public perception. You can’t have it both ways: tell allegedly anodyne political tales from the head table to oil executives who have paid you to speak on a Saturday night and then, appear credible to a national television audience on a Monday night while introducing an exposé about some oil industry environmental/financial transgression.

Here’s the fundamental question: exactly how would allowing CBC journalists to speak for a fee to an outside organization like CAPP, a lobby group, seem like a decision that wouldincrease Canadians’ confidence that CBC reports the news impartially?

Stay Tuned

This story isn’t over. Now all eyes are on CBC management and their promised review of policy. Stay tuned.

What ethical standards should we expect of journalists?

When you open your morning newspaper or turn on the evening television news, do you expect to receive independent and impartial reporting on events from newspeople free of unacknowledged biases? Well, if you live in Canada,  you may have to reset that expectation.

205141_10151564635569202_1238184971_n

This basic assumption of conflict-free news media has been called into question by reports that CBC news anchor Peter Manbridge and on-air columnist Rex Murphy have benefited from paid speaking engagements with organizations they cover in the news. According to the reports, both Murphy and Mansbridge have accepted paid speaking engagements from Canada’s oil industry. And neither Manbridge nor Murphy disclosed this when moderating or participating in discussions of energy policy, the oil sands development or the oil industry.

This story emerged from the reporting of a handful of bloggers and online news sources – most notably Jesse Brown and Andrew Mitrovica.  Mitrovica raised questions about Rex Murphy’s relationship with the oil industry in a story on ipolitics.ca. Jesse Brown picked it up on his Canadaland podcast and Canadaland blog.

Remarkably, CBC attempted to stonewall the issue. Initially, they refused to answer substantial questions about Murphy’s actions. When pressed over a couple weeks, they published aggressive counter arguments in blog posts by Jennifer McGuire, editor in chief of CBC news, and Peter Mansbridge himself. Rex Murphy took to his column in the National Post to print a rebuttal.

Then, on March 12, the CBC’s Ombudsman Esther Enkin presaged a dramatic shift in the standards of acceptable behaviour in her review of the situation. While finding that both Murphy and Mansbridge were onside with the CBC’s policies, Enkin challenged the policy itself. She stated,

Whether there is a real or only an apparent conflict of interest, in matters of journalistic integrity it amounts to the same thing….  since taking money leads to a perception of a conflict of interest, CBC management might want to consider, in the review they are undertaking, whether even with disclosure, it is appropriate for CBC news and current affairs staff to get paid for their speaking engagements. … At the least, management should think about the appearance of getting paid by interest groups who are likely to feature prominently in the news, or who are involved in public policy debates.

and concluded,

Given that Journalistic Standards and Practices spells out a commitment to independence, and the Conflict of Interest guidelines encompass perception of conflict as well, it is inconsistent with policy when CBC news and current affairs staff accept payment from groups that are likely to be in the news. To summarize, in the course of reviewing its policy, I hope CBC management will reconsider the practice of paid speaking engagements for its journalists and, at a minimum, consider how any relevant activity and payment can be on the public record.

Now, the ball is in CBC management’s court. Jennifer McGuire has indicated that the results of an internal policy review will be forthcoming soon. In light of the Ombudsman’s review, it’s hard to imagine how this new policy could maintain the status quo.

Discuss these issues with Jesse Brown at Third Tuesday

This affair raises a number of questions applying to all news media – both traditional and new online and social operations. Questions worth discussing at length.

Jesse Brown

And that’s just what we’re going to do at the next Third Tuesday. Jesse Brown will be our speaker at the March Third Tuesday Toronto and Third Tuesday Ottawa. Jesse will take us through the issues and the questions raised. Questions like:

  • Is it reasonable to believe that a journalist can be influenced or biased because he or she accepts payment from companies or organizations for services provided outside of the journalist’s main occupation?
  • How much transparency about outside financial payments to journalists is sufficient? How much is realistic and possible?
  • In a freelance economy, should we expect the same degree of disclosure from freelance journalists who must earn their living from a variety of sources?
  • Should news organizations enforce an outright ban on their journalists accepting payment from other sources or is disclosure of such payments sufficient?
  • What is the responsibility of the news organization to define standards for their journalists and what is the responsibility of the journalist as an individual?
  • Should a national broadcaster paid for by public funds be held to a higher standard of transparency than a private news organization?
  • What can we do when media outlets are slow to cover an issue in which they are directly involved?

We will talk about these issues and more when Jesse Brown joins us at Third Tuesday. If you’re interested in attending, register online for Third Tuesday Toronto or Third Tuesday Ottawa.

Learn more about this important issue

This is an important issue. And as such, I encourage you to read these original sources.

Rex Murphy and big oil: friends with benefits?, Press Progress

Rex Murphy energy speech in Alberta, November 2013, Youtube user Gazzornenplat

Rex Murphy, the oilsands and the cone of silence, Andrew Mitravica

A Question of ConflictJennifer McGuire, General Manager and Editor in Chief, CBC News

Rex Murphy is paid by the oilsands and the CBC won’t disclose or discuss it, Jesse Brown

Speaking my mind, no matter the issue, Rex Murphy

Jonathan Kay defends Rex Murphy, Jesse Brown

CBC reviews Rex Murphy oil conference speech but ignored when Peter Mansbridge did his, Dean Skoreyko

The CBC responds to my complaint about Rex Murphy, Lorne Warwick

Peter Mansbridge Was Paid By Oil and Gas Lobby For Speech, Michael Bolen

Oilsands Group Confirms Paying Peter Mansbridge, Jesse Brown, Canadaland

Speaking of Speeches…, Peter Mansbridge

Peter Mansbridge receives speaking fees from oil industry group, CBC As It Happens

Debating the ethics of journalists & paid speaking engagements, CBC The Current

Q Media Panel on Maidan, Murphy and Mansbridge, CBC Q

The CBC Won’t Talk to CBC Radio About Mansbridge’s Speaking Fees, The Huffington Post Canada

You’ve Still Got Some Explaining to Do Mr. Mansbridge, Andrew Mitrovica

What Peter Mansbridge’s CAPP Speaking Fee Says About His News Judgment, Dan Rowe

Covering Climate Change, Jennifer McGuire

CBCecrets: Mansbridge’s Oil Pay Makes the News, Jesse Brown

Review findings re Conflict of Interest, Esther Enkin, CBC Ombudsman

CBC Policy on Conflict of Interest and Journalists, CBC

CBC Ombudsman Questions Peter Mansbridge’s Speaking Fees, Canadian Press

You Can’t Have the Cash and Keep the Credibility, Andrew Mitrovica

CBC Should Banish Paid Speeches, Frank Koller

Thank you to our sponsors

Third Tuesday is supported by great sponsors – Cision Canada and Rogers Communications – who believe in our community and help us to bring speakers to our community. Without the sponsors we couldn’t make Third Tuesday a truly Canadian affair. So, thank you to the sponsors of the Third Tuesday 2012-13 season: Cision Canada and Rogers Communications.

We want students to be able to attend

Third Tuesday is a great opportunity to hear about the latest developments in social media and to network with business and thought leaders. And we don’t want students to miss out on this opportunity. So, if you are a student and would like to attend, don’t let the admission fee stop you. Simply present your student ID card at the time you sign into Third Tuesday and we’ll refund your admission fee, courtesy of Thornley Fallis.

Marketing with Integrity – Selling Likes and Followers

Do you sell Facebook Likes or Twitter Followers to your clients?

I received this email in the middle of the night. You may have received it or something like it too.

It asks, “I was wondering if you sell Facebook Likes and Twitter Followers to your clients to improve their social media credibility?” The writer then goes on to suggest that, “Some companies sell 500 Facebook likes to their clients for $100, and buy the service from me for $15. It’s a huge profit margin and is a really easy add-on to sell to your current customers.”

My answer in a word is NO!

No, we don’t sell Facebook Likes, Twitter Followers or any other kind of social gesture. Buying followers amounts to pure deception, in my mind. Especially if the intent is to suggest that a large number of followers conveys greater credibility.

True credibility is earned. It is ascribed to you by others based on their experience of you. If you believe that the number of likes or followers conveys credibility, then purchasing them amounts to deception. 

If you are a marketer, don’t follow this path. It is marketing without integrity.

Americans Against Food Taxes shows Astroturfing is still with us

Will we ever be able to stamp out Astroturfing in public relations?

Take a look at this Website and this that the group ran on television and posted to YouTube.

Hold on a second. “Americans Against Food Taxes?” The names on the About Us page suggest to me it really should be called Soft Drink Manufacturers/retailers opposed to a tax on sugar-packed soft drinks. And if this ad really did run on the Super Bowl, as the Website claims, a total of 95, 275 signups on their petition sounds to me like no real grassroots movement actually exists.

The whole thing smacks of disinformation and bad spin. Yes, the ad makes explicit reference to a tax on soft drinks, but look at everything else: the images of fresh fruit on the Website home page, a grocery cart packed with wholesome food, the domain “nofoodtaxes.com” (why not “nosoftdrinktaxes.com?” and the name of the group itself. Take them all together and the uncritical viewer could easily think that there is a broader tax being proposed on all food. No lies are told. But it is possible to mislead by how we frame an issue and (mis)direct attention.

I raised this issue with Martin Waxman and Gini Dietrich in the most recent episode of Inside PR.

What do you think?

Do you know more about this campaign than I do? Am I setting the bar of acceptable behaviour too high – or does this campaign in fact cross the line?

Also worth a look:

Sourcewatch

Health Habits

PolitiFact

Treehugger

Three questions to ask before accepting a controversial client

Have you ever been found yourself  presented with the opportunity to work for a client who might be controversial.

Recently, my company was asked to work for an organization that many would consider controversial. We struggled with whether we should accept the assignment and, ultimately chose to decline it.

Even though we encounter this type of situation many times in business, it is all too easy to become mired in the specifics of a situation and to lose sight of your longer term objectives.

So, as we deal with these kinds of issues, I’ve written down three questions that I think will always guide us to the right outcome. I’d like to share them with you and get your feedback on this approach and what you do in your own company when confronted with this type of situation.

Business should not be value-free; But it’s complicated

As the CEO of a company, I have to be concerned about the impact our roster of clients will have not only on our public image, but also on our self-image and our internal culture. People should spend their time working on things they believe in. They shouldn’t be compelled to work on assignments or for clients they disagree with.

In the 1980s and early nineties, the CEO of the firm I then worked for famously declared that we would not shy away from taking on controversial clients because “just as every person is entitled to a vigorous defence in court, they also deserve a vigorous defence in the court of public opinion.” Well, I disagreed with that position then and I disagree with it now. There are some bad people in life and they don’t deserve a vigorous defence – at least not from me.

But that’s easy. The “clearly bad” are at one extreme. But we don’t live life in the extremes. We live them in the mushy middle, in shades of gray.

We can’t expect everyone to agree with us or believe in the things we agree in. But we also can’t shy away from supporting a cause or belief that not everyone supports. If we did that, we’d lose ourselves in the depths of political correctness and we’d never do anything.

How do you decide whether to take on a client that may be controversial?

First, avoid the trap of believing that you have to make the decision on your own. I lead a company. But I also work as a team member in that company. The route to the right decision about accepting a potentially controversial client lies first in remembering that we all have a stake in this decision and involving more people than myself in the decision.

Once past this hurdle, I have three questions that will get you to the right outcome for our organization:

1) Do we support the objectives of the potential client as well as the way they go about attempting to achieve them?

The world is full of business opportunities. Why not look for those whose objectives and methods we applaud? Conventional management wisdom advises against grabbing every business opportunity which presents itself but which is off strategy. Similarly, why not focus on bringing in business from organizations and companies that you can easily support. In our case, ff can’t say with pride that we work for a client, we will walk away from the opportunity to work for them.

2) How will this affect the culture of your company?

The answer to the first question cannot be fully provided without reference to the entire organization. Are there people within your company who feel strongly about the potential client? Will it create division and alienation?

This doesn’t mean that anyone individual (including the CEO)  should have a veto. Don’t be afraid to have a vigorous internal discussion. It can lead to an understanding and respect of the different perspectives held by people. Reasonable people should be able to understand another’s point of view and respect that point of view.

Ultimately this is the issue on which management must make a call. Can the normal and healthy differences in opinion be accommodated or is this a situation in which the cultural cost will be too high? If the latter, take a pass on the potential client.

3) How will this be perceived by the external world?

This question comes last because, if you’ve answered the preceding two, you will be ready to weather the disapproval of those who disagree with your decision. And there will always be those that disagree. That’s the great thing about an open and liberal society. We hold different views and we are free to express them.

My objective is not to stop people from criticizing us. My objective is that we appear reasonable and reasoned in our defense of our decision. And if we do that, it will loop back into our internal culture

Bottom line

While we can’t eliminate controversy from attaching it to our businesses (unless we are prepared to be so nondescript and bland that we leave no footprint), by answering these three simple questions we can be true to our essential nature, build a stronger culture, and be ready to respond to comments from the outside world.

How do you handle this kind of situation?

I’d welcome your views on this. What practices do you follow in your company to manage potentially controversial situations?

Up close and personal with Movember and Prostate Cancer

Today is an important anniversary for me. Ten years ago today I had surgery for prostate cancer. I’m one of the lucky ones. I’m still here to talk about it 10 years later.

I was lucky because my doctor had me take a PSA (prostate specific antigen) test while I was still in my 40s. I was younger than the average prostate cancer patient. But thanks to my doctor and the PSA test, my cancer was detected and treated at an early stage.

Prostate cancer is a scary thing for men. It threatens our self-identity. We don’t like to talk about it. And that’s not good.

Prostate cancer can be beaten. But to do this, men have to be less squeamish about talking about it. We need to talk to their doctors about the risk and have ourselves tested. We also need more research into better methods of detection and treatment for those who are diagnosed with prostate cancer.

That’s why I’m participating this year in the Movember campaign. Through the month of November, I’ll be joining thousands of other men growing a moustache to raise awareness of prostate cancer and to raise money to fund research into its detection and treatment.

I hope you’ll take a minute to think about whether you can make a contribution to overcoming this disease. Your contribution can take many forms. You could make a donation to defeat prostate cancer. Or you could participate yourself in growing a mustache for the Movember campaign. But you can also make a contribution simply by talking about prostate cancer and raising awareness that it can be tested for and treated.

With your help, there will be more men like me who can say, “I beat prostate cancer.”

Ethics and Word of Mouth Marketing – What are the issues?

What do you think are the most important ethical issues relating to Word of Mouth marketing?

I’m chairing a panel on Ethics of Word of Mouth at the CMA’s Word of Mouth Conference next week. The panelists discussing this issue with me will be Malcolm Roberts , President, Smith Roberts Creative Communications and Ross Buchanan, Director, Digital & Relationship Marketing, Molson Canada .

As I prepare for this session, I’d welcome your input.

  • What are the major ethical issues confronting the Word of Mouth industry?
  • What questions would you put to the panelists and participants?

I’ll use your suggestions and questions at the session. So, please fire away.

When it comes to ethics, stand your ground

There’s been quite a debate on the Inside PR podcast about why public relations practitioners rank near the bottom of any list of trusted professions (usually right alongside lawyers and politicians.)

The discussion started with a question in episode 101 asked by Rayanne Langdon . It’s carried on over several episodes. And yes, I’ve contributed my 2 cents to it along the way .

Bottom line for me: PR should not reference the legal maxim that every person has the right to a defence in court and argue that "every client deserves public relations representation." No they don’t. Some people just do bad things. And the best public relations advice to them is to own up and make good.

There are industries that refuse to do this. They play for time, using the profits from their morally dubious activities to pave the way for them to transition their companies into other industries. Yes, I’m thinking tobacco. And I abhor the fact that we allow these companies to continue to produce something that incontestably kills people every single day. My view is that they do not deserve public relations counsel and Terry Fallis (who shares this view) and I have refused assignments from tobacco companies when they have come calling.

So, am I claiming that I have the key to good ethics. Heck no. But I like the argument that Julie Rusciolelli has advanced . Every person should be prepared to state their reasons for accepting (or not accepting) a client assignment. Not everyone may agree with the reasons. But over time we will respect people who clearly and honestly argue their positions. And we will also be able to identify and isolate the bad apples, ensuring that they don’t contaminate the entire PR industry.

OK. So that’s easy for me to say. I own my own PR company. The only person I have to answer to is myself. (Well, not quite. I actually have to answer to every employee as she/he decides every morning whether they want to work for my company. But that’s a digression.)

Rayanne Langdon, who you may recall started the Inside PR discussion, has posted a comment on Michael Allison’s post on this issue. Rayanne’s comment:

I’ve already heard stories from some of my classmates that make me cringe. But, I guess I’m the stickler for ethics–being the one who started the IPR discussion. Everyone hates me for it! Hah.

Thankfully, I don’t feel I’ve been put in any compromising situations yet, but I don’t know what I would have done if I was. As bad as it sounds, it seems almost rude to stand your ethical ground and refuse work at this point. Do you know what I mean?

I know how Rayanne feels. It’s tough to be in a situation in which you feel you are at odds with people who have some authority over you. So, here’s my advice to Rayanne and other young PR practitioners:

  • If someone asks you to do something that strikes you as ethically dubious, state your view clearly. Ask the other person to respond. Consider their response. Ask for time to think about it.
  • If you come to see the other person’s point of view, then you may find that you have learned something and you can do what they’ve requested.
  • If, on the other hand, you still feel that you cannot do what has been asked of you, stand your ground! The good people in life don’t compromise their fundamental principles. Once you start to slide, it’s hard to regain solid ground. So, don’t start.

That’s the advice I’d offer. If young PR practitioners (or anyone for that matter) follow it, I’ll respect them for it. And if the people in my firm ever find me offside with the views I’ve stated here, I hope they’ll call me out on it.

Strumpette has thin skin; gives me the treatment

Chris Clarke wrote something in the Blog Herald that Strumpette didn’t like. In a post in the Blog Herald on Friday, Chris wrote,

The PR community online is still growing. According to our official scorekeeper Constantin Basturea, the community almost doubled in 2006 to 630. Terrific, right? One would hope that with more PR blogs, the industry would be increasing it’s awareness of social media. More PR bloggers means more individuals telling their friends and colleagues, “Check out my blog.” Sadly, the second most-trafficked PR blogs is the self-appointed potty-mouthed ombudswoman of the PR community, Strumpette. Even when we do good, the bad stuff seems to stand out above the rest.

Well, it seems that Strumpette, used to visiting criticism on others, has a pretty thin skin. Chris’ post is time-stamped 11:00 January 12. At 11:15, my telephone rang and the first words I heard were, “Joe, it’s Brian Connolly.” Brian wanted to complain to me about what Chris had written. You see, I’m Chris’ employer and Brian felt that I was responsible for Chris’ scepticism about the merits of Strumpette.

Brian and I had a good long conversation. He made his points. Articulately. With some passion. He argued the importance in society of dissension. I listened and did not disagree with that. But I did tell him that I have a problem with people who attack the character of others from behind a veil of anonymity.

We had a good conversation that gave me some points to consider, but that did not persuade me to endorse Strumpette’s approach.

Well, a few minutes ago, I felt the fury of a Strumpette scorned. One of the anonymous Strumpettes has just written an attack piece targeted squarely at me, my firm and our approach to social media.

None of us will find total agreement with everything we say. There is merit in thinking through and expressing ideas and having them challenged. That’s how we learn. That’s how we move forward. That’s how we grow.

Social media provides channels through which new voices may be heard. Some will be intelligent and perceptive. Some will entertain. Some will educate. Others will seek to titillate and to appeal to baser instincts.

So, I’ve just had my Strumpette moment. It’s not nice. I have some scratches.

Time to move on.