Legitimacy and ethical concerns are quite important to the practice of public relations (Hendrix & Hayes, 2010). With some errant developmental forefathers, such as Edward Bernays (1928) and contemporary deviants, such as Saul Alinsky, and self-proclaimed media watch groups, such as the left-wing Center for Media and Democracy’s PRWatch.org, it is increasingly important to understand appropriate use and context for the influences possible with contemporary public relations concepts (Stauber & Rampton, 1999). In this discussion, I will examine and discuss the appropriateness and ethical use of Blackmon’s (2009) three different public relations concepts: press agentry, promotion, and sales and marketing in light of the six provisions of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA; 2000) Member Code of Ethics: advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness.
According to Blackmon (2009), agentry is a tool to increase notoriety for the sake of notoriety and without any other objective or plan. A good example of press agentry is CNN Entertainment’s coverage of Nadya Suleman and her choice of career (Duke, 2012). Suleman is also known publicly as the Octomom. Although the Duke (2012) article expresses her choices as promotion for her new video, the actual article by Duke is borne from press agentry. Considering the PRSA (2000) code of ethics, it appears that Ms. Suleman’s press agent is acting in her best interests and not promoting Ms. Suleman in an unfair way that is not dishonest to the public. The choice of media outlets to cover Ms. Suleman at the behest of her press agent is entertainment journalism and falls outside of the scope of this discussion.
Promotion, according to Blackmon (2009), is similar to press agentry, though with some objective or as a means to an end. Frum (2012) fulfills Sony’s promotional wishes by attending an event devoted to promoting electronic entertainment then writing about his findings. Like the Duke (2012) example above, Frum’s coverage is not the subject of the discussion here; however, the promotional event that Frum covers is. I find the pomp of the event likely needed to draw both consumers and journalists. Additionally, the public relations team that advocated for Sony to promote its new games at this heralded event to be in line with the ethics put forth by the PRSA (2000). Sony is putting its products in the public arena for both celebration and scrutiny, equally.
Sales and Marketing
Over the last few years, Sprint (2012) marketed its Simply Everything ™ plan as its premier-tier plan to include unlimited talk, domestic long distance calling, text, data, and roaming. This plan was marketed towards power users who cannot judge their cellular service usage month to month and are willing to pay a premium fee of $99.99 per month for this service. Recently, Sprint decided that network usage was too overwhelming and unilaterally decided to limit consumer phone data usage by implementing limited hotspot plans. A hotspot, in this case, is the ability of a smart phone to act as a wireless router to allow connections from laptops and other network devices to share the phone’s data connection. Initially, there was a single plan costing $29.00 that merely allowed using the phone’s hotspot feature, but they have since decided to even limit the use of the hotspot, specifically, to a set amount of five gigabytes (GB) regardless of the <i>unlimited data</i> included in the Simply Everything ™ plan (Webster, 2011). Sprint has now decided to discontinue the five GB plan and offer a two GB for $19.99/month and a six GB plan for $49.99/month (Tofel, 2012; Welch, 2012). The marketing plan would be within the PRSA’s (2000) code of ethics; however, the recent unilateral decision by Sprint to limit the users’ data usage under the unlimited plan is dishonest, unfair, and is insulting to loyal customers.
The PRSA (2000) has chosen not to enforce their code of ethics; however, it does provide a standard to look towards for guidance in judging the ethics of public relations efforts. Public relations efforts that disrespect the consumer are dishonorable and will ultimately be judged by consumer choice. In all three cases above, the efforts are obviously focused at improving the business model of each subject (Ms. Suleman, Sony, and Sprint); however, the public relations effort is focused to an audience and that audience needs to feel some level of respect when receiving the message. Otherwise, the effort will fail.
Bernays, E. L. (1928). Propaganda. Retrieved from http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/bernprop.html
Blackmon, M. (2009). Public relations terms [PowerPoint slides].
Duke, A. (2012, June 5). Octuplets mom Suleman books stripper gigs to save home. CNN Entertainment. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/04/showbiz/octuplets-mom-stripping/index.html
Frum, L. (2012, June 5). Sony highlights mature games, cross-play at Electronic Entertainment Expo. CNN Tech. Retrieved from http://www.cnn.com/2012/06/05/tech/gaming-gadgets/e3-sony/index.html
Hendrix, J. A. & Hayes, D. C. (2010). Public relations cases (8th ed.). Boston, MA: Wadsworth Cengage Learning.
Public Relations Society of America. (2000). Member code of ethics. Retrieved from http://www.prsa.org/AboutPRSA/Ethics/documents/Code%20of%20Ethics.pdf
Sprint. (2012). Plans: pricing, individual, business. Retrieved from http://www.sprint.com/landings/indirect/sprintplans.pdf
Stauber, J. & Rampton, S. (1999). The father of spin: Edward L. Bernays and the birth of PR [Book review of same title]. PR Watch, 6(2). Retrieved from http://www.prwatch.org/prwissues/1999Q2/bernays.html
Tofel, K. C. (2012. May 22). Sprint bumps per GB price on hotspot plans for phones. GigaOM. Retrieved from http://gigaom.com/mobile/sprint-bumps-per-gb-price-on-hotspot-plans-for-phones/
Webster, S. (2011, September 22). Sprint to cap mobile hotspot plans at 5GB per month in October. CNET. Retrieved from http://www.cnet.com/8301-17918_1-20110106-85/sprint-to-cap-mobile-hotspot-plans-at-5gb-per-month-in-october/
Welch, C. (2012, May 22). Sprint kills 5GB mobile hotspot plan, offers less cost-effective 2GB and 6GB plans to fill void. The Verge. Retrieved from http://www.theverge.com/2012/5/22/3036211/sprint-mobile-hotspot-tethering-plans-updated