Ethics remain hot media topic

23 Oct

Bruce Fraser, PRINZ President 

The behaviours of PR practitioners continue to come under the media spotlight with features in North & South Magazine and Radio NZ’s Media Watch.

I believe that our Code of Ethics provides a very clear guideline for us all in how we conduct our communications management practices. The recent video featuring Life member and past President Tim Marshall sets out the principles and guidelines of the Code succinctly. The recent World PR Forum in Madrid took the theme Communication with Conscience and we heard from many speakers about the erosion of trust that people have in governments, businesses and organisations. One of our roles as PR professionals is to be the conscience of our organisations – we have a duty to help restore some of the lost trust for our employers and clients.

With many PR practitioners now in senior positions and able to influence company strategy and culture, we can help build authenticity through high quality, open, transparent communications. We’ve moved away from the role Global Alliance Chair Anne Gregory describes as SOS – Sending Out Stuff – to being integrated across all tables in our organisations, not just the executive table.

We need to see ourselves as agents of change, where we bring the outside in and conduct ourselves ethically. We don’t pay bloggers to misrepresent our clients’ interests, we don’t assume false identities to comment on issues and we don’t engage in personal attacks on opponents to our causes, services or products.

We continue to provide top quality communications that are grounded in best practice, sound theory, experience and ethical stances.



For students: A guide to PR

21 Oct

Last Thursday we attended the University of Waikato’s Gordon Chesterman PR Campaigns Awards in Hamilton. This long-standing event is the cherry on top of the Waikato communications degree – allowing students to present their implemented campaigns and showcase their abilities to a room filled with PR practitioners, family, friends and a panel of judges. Each of the four student groups was tasked with creating a campaign for the Electoral Commission that would increase voter turnout and/or awareness.

It was an extraordinary event – the quality of the presented campaigns was high and the amount of work that had gone into each was no small feat. The creativity within the campaigns was memorable, humorous and well-executed, and it was great to see so many future PR practitioners in one room.


University of Waikato PR students. Photo credit: University of Waikato

On the same night as the Chesterman Awards in Hamilton, future PR talent was also the focus of the AUT-student organised ‘The night of your career’ networking event held for employers and alumni.

PRINZ was pleased to attend and observe young people at the start of their promising careers, and we all know they’ve chosen a great one!

We wish all graduating and continuing students (onto a Masters anyone?) all the best and don’t forget about the recently introduced ‘Graduate membership’ at a reduced rate for your first year after study.

Those entering the workforce will find the below very valuable – a guide to your first PR job, by Sophie Kurta, former Account Manager at Network Communication. This blog was originally posted in May 2014.

So you’ve started your first PR job. Your big break. Goodbye retail, hospo and shift work… Hello, 9-5.

You’ve made it. Except, you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have been asked to complete, aren’t you? The vast number of media you are meant to know the names and deadlines for? The intimidatingly articulate practitioners around you? Those acronyms you hear in meetings –   you have to Google them, don’t you? And at the end of the day, you go home and feel like you’ll never get the hang of it and before long people will find out you don’t know what you are doing.

Never fear, my first year in PR was exactly the same. And rest assured it does get easier…eventually. Heck, you even start to enjoy it. “PR” becomes an instinctive, intrinsic way of life – you can find a story in anything, you dream up ideas in your sleep and you squeal in excitement when your campaign is on the 6pm news.  A job in PR is exciting; you just have to give it time to get that way.

To help you navigate the common challenges we young PR kids face, I thought I’d share a few of the tips that helped me move from an Account Executive to Account Manager in just over 6 months.

Challenge 1: You have no idea what media we have in New Zealand or who you should be pitching your stories too.

magazinesJust breathe; many of us started our jobs not knowing who all the editors were for publications. Although those above you blurt out their names with ease as though they just had dinner with them and have them on speed dial… at one stage, they had no idea who they were either. Take some time to look through the mags, papers and websites out there, see what kind of stories they are writing about, what sections they run, little features they are prone to doing.  Learning names is less important than learning publications. If you know your story will fit in to the publication, that it works within their format, then you are highly likely to be successful.  Media will appreciate you for pitching them a story that is actually relevant and you’ll subsequently start to build relationships. And guess what? You will begin to learn their names.

Challenge 2: The colleagues around you are so intelligent, are amazing with words and are editing your writing to shreds.

Good! The best thing you can do when you first start your job in PR is to let those above you review everything – emails to clients, briefs to suppliers, tweets to celebs and pitches to media. If you are anything like me you will experience some intense tracked changes, making the end product look nothing like what you sent them, but what you slowly learn is the art of crafting, making every word count and every point clear. The more you get your words butchered, the quicker you improve.  I continue to send pitches past another colleague to review. Fresh eyes, and more experienced ones at that, can offer insights that push your writing from mediocre to amazing – and from pitches that media don’t reply to, to pitches where media call you. Learn from those around you and your writing will reap the benefits.

Challenge 3: You are overwhelmed with the amount of work you have to do, and feel like you are never getting on top of things.

This is pretty much the life of a PR Practitioner, and slowly you will come to terms with the fact that you will never be able to cross everything off your list. If you did, you wouldn’t have any work to do and you wouldn’t have a job. Your job is a busy one – it is meant to be – and it is ok to always have a list of things to do. In fact, embrace the list, write everything down, prioritise it, and feel comforted by the fact that it is now written down on paper so you can get to it when it’s time. Take a pad and paper with you everywhere, to every meeting, every chat with your boss, every brainstorm – you will always need it and there will always be something you have to remember to do.

Challenge 4: You don’t have a clue what you are doing. You’ve been asked to start something but you don’t even know what it is.

ASK. Ask questions – lots of them. Those above you appreciate your enthusiasm and questioning and love imparting their knowledge on to others. Remember they were in your boat once too and they will see that you are determined to do a good job, are humble and are willing to admit when you don’t know where to start. If you’re asked to draft a document, release or pitch and haven’t written in that style before, ask your colleagues for examples. You can use these examples to form a template and to better understand the style to write in.

My final words of wisdom: Stick to deadlines, or tell people that you will need more time. The worst thing you can do is wait for them to chase you. This makes you appear complacent and is not how you want to be viewed. Be proactive, positive and persistent. If you can do this – you will finish your first year and may even do some ladder climbing while you’re at it.

Trust me, the first few months in PR are always overwhelming but if you give it the time it deserves you will start loving it. All jobs have their boring patches, but in PR, there aren’t many of them.

Good luck!


PRINZ holds various events throughout the year in Auckland, Waikato, Wellington and Christchurch. Attending these is a great way to network, meet the right people and gain valuable insight into the  industry. Keep an eye out for upcoming events near you in the PRINZ 2014 Events Calendar.

All images sourced from Thinkstock: Getty Images.

Report 1 from #WPRF2014 – The CEO and the PR practitioner

23 Sep

Bruce Fraser, PRINZ President

World PR Forum 2014 plenary speaker, Professor Robert Heath from Houston University said that the PR practitioner needs to have access to and influence with the CEO of the company to be completely effective.

Nice concept but its realisation requires many, interrelated conditions to be aligned.

Foremost amongst those is a switched on CEO who understands and appreciates the value that great PR can bring to the company or organisation. He or she will be committed to high quality communications and will understand the importance of logo-web-wprf1stakeholder engagement and reputation management. Their previous experience and worldviews will have prepared them to appoint a high performing PR manager. The CEO will appreciate the value-add that the PR person brings to the executive table where the PR perspective is appreciated as much as those provided by the CFO or operations manager.

That PR manager will be experienced in a wide range of communication practices, though probably not all and be well qualified with a communications or PR degree.

Additionally s/he will be well versed in business practices and speak the language that matters most to the business that s/he is working in. Balance sheets and finances will not be scary items of discussion but will be integral parts of the way that the PR Manager works. S/he will have a deep understanding of the company, its goals, values and strategic direction. In fact, they will have contributed to the development of those high level, executive business planks.

Another alignment feature will be the ability of the PR Manager to demonstrate ongoing value in furthering the company goals. With research, measurement, deep understanding of strategic planning, highly-effective implementation and robust reporting back, the PR Manager will consistently demonstrate that the professional discipline helps lead to stronger corporate outcomes.

Of course, these are all undertaken ethically. The PR manager will adopt transparent, honest approaches pointing out the risks, opportunities and best practices that will enable the company to better achieve its goals.

So, how often does this nirvana exist in New Zealand companies and organisations? There are some great examples of PR practitioners operating at this level either in-house or as consultants. Unfortunately though, they are not as common as the PR industry would ideally like to see. There are too few enlightened CEOs and sadly, not enough PR Managers who can achieve the alignment of those other features that will result in them contributing strongly around the executive table.

In my ideal world, all major companies will have a great PR person at the top – someone who works proactively in the business and not simply the person who produces the media release, the brochure or the web content.

From Dirty Politics to Clean PR

18 Sep

Margalit Toledano, PhD, APR, Fellow PRSA, PRiNZ
Senior Lecturer, Dept of Management Communication, The University of Waikato

New Zealand’s PR industry suffered collateral damage in the recent “Dirty Politics” scandals. The leaks exposed behind-the-scene deals between PR practitioners and bloggers that orchestrated smear campaigns on behalf of their political and business clients. According to John Drinnan (The New Zealand Herald Sept 5, 2014), it casts “a cloud” over the practice.

Paying bloggers, in cash or kind, for comments to promote the interests of powerful clients, or to shut out the voices of powerless opponents, is indeed unacceptable practice. Besides misleading public opinion, it puts at risk the democratic values of equality and freedom of expression.

Not disclosing the real identity of the interests behind news items violates the rule of “transparency in all communications” included in all PR codes of ethics. The practice exposed in New Zealand would be recognised as unethical and unprofessional by PR communities all over the world. It was rightly denounced by the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRiNZ).

Members of national PR associations have committed to codes of ethics, the teaching of ethics as part of the PR curriculum has increased worldwide, and scholarly research on PR ethics has also expanded. In reality, in spite of this growth, the profession retains a reputation for being unethical and manipulative. Ethical challenges for the profession have intensified further in the current unedited social media environment.

Ethics2One major challenge is the contradiction embedded in the profession’s DNA: practitioners are committed to truth, transparency, and service to the public interest while at the same time they are paid to be loyal to clients and employers and to advocate on their behalf. To conduct ethical PR, practitioners need to rely on strong personal integrity and a deep understanding of the profession’s responsibility not only to clients but also to society. They need to be empowered by high-level training programmes provided by academic education and professional associations.

They also depend on a supportive environment inspired by ethical political systems and markets. In societies where corruption is accepted as business as usual PR practitioners find it difficult to maintain ethical standards.

New Zealand has been privileged to date by its relatively high transparency and ethical standards. We rank at the top of the Transparency International list and are recognised for socially responsible practices. Research has shown that the New Zealand PR industry, compared to other countries, expects fairer play and a higher level of commitment to ethics..

That’s why it has been so alarming to witness the current government’s dismissal of Dirty Politics as a marginal issue, just a “derailment” from the real issues on the election campaign. On TV3’s The Nation programme (Sat, Sept 6), the Minister Bill English was not able to denounce clearly unethical behaviour and kept repeating “there are bigger issues”. Of similar concern has been PM John Key’s attempt to brush aside the book’s revelations by defending manipulative National Party communication tactics as things that everybody was doing.

Is a discussion on tax cuts really more important than the ethical behaviour of elected officials? Shouldn’t voters be able to make their choice of government based on trust in the elected politicians? Comments by political leaders about ethics in the last month raise a red flag to any citizen who cares about New Zealand’s democracy and who expects ethical conduct from its politicians and professional communicators.

Love it or hate it, PR is here to stay. The profession is growing and more organisations in government, business and the non-profit sector rely on communication managers: They help organisations build understanding and trustworthy relationships with stakeholders; they have significant influence on the public arena; and their ethical behaviour is crucial for securing open, inclusive, and democratic public discussions.

The Dirty Politics scandal might serve as a wake-up call to the involved politicians, the media, and the public relations industry: Don’t take New Zealand democracy and freedoms for granted. Put ethics high on political, public, and professional agendas. Dirty linen and passing clouds aren’t strong enough language for the persistence of corruption in society. Once the rot becomes accepted and sets in, fixing the house and getting citizens to trust politicians and the media can become a Herculean task. The scandals from Dirty Politics should motivate the professions to clean up their conduct and become more proactive in ethical education and behaviour. Hopefully they might also help New Zealanders to choose ethics on election-day.

PRINZ encourages members to write blogs for this page, but notes that individual views do not necessarily reflect the views of all members.   All PRINZ members are bound by the Code of Ethics.

Proud to be a PRINZ member

3 Sep

Simone Bell, PRINZ Member since 2000, and PRINZ Chief Executive

It’s been suggested to me that the industry thinks ‘it’s all fine’ and the activities described in ‘Dirty Politics’ aren’t an issue.

This is not the case.

Public relations and communication management is complex and often takes place around issues, rapidly moving situations, change and long term planning. To the general public (members have told me of their neighbours, family or colleagues questioning what they do) the contents of some of ‘Dirty Politics’ has created an unjustified perception of ‘what we do’ as PR practitioners (put simply it’s; building and sustaining the relationships and reputation necessary to maintain a license to operate).

I know that PRINZ members do great work. The past three years’ Award case study compilation alone demonstrates that. The case studies of Award finalists acknowledge and celebrate work that changes organisations, businesses and society for the better. The work of our members also informs, educates, cares and entertains. The PRINZ Awards are just one example of a time that I am very proud of the industry and the great work done by members.

Every week I hear from members who send me their success stories and how these contribute to society. Members also readily and proudly tell me in person about their work and sometimes want to share their experience with a wider network of members to help them learn and develop.

Learning and development are vital to a profession, and hundreds of the 1,200 PRINZ members take part in courses, APR accreditation, RIVER CPD, events and Awards for that very reason.

Please remember and take heart in the fact that the sign of your professionalism is your voluntary membership of PRINZ. By joining PRINZ we have all signed up to the PRINZ Code of Ethics, which is a reference to guide behaviour and decision-making. It also demonstrates to the wider public our commitment to good practice. The opportunity we now have as an industry and as a profession is to reinforce and reiterate the Code to anyone willing to listen.

In the past week I have read pieces that reinforce our role as ethical and professional. I would love to see PRINZ members contribute similarly, here, on their own forum (blogs and websites) and provide a balance to the wider discussion.

Smears, laws, and PR ethics

18 Aug

490201787Dr. Margalit Toledano, APR, Fellow PRSA, Fellow PRINZ

In November 2011 top international PR agency Burson-Marsteller was caught up in a scandal. They’d run a covert anti-Google smear campaign on behalf of their client Facebook. They had pitched anti-Google stories to newspapers and bloggers, urging them to investigate claims that Google was invading people’s privacy. When a blogger posted Burson-Marsteller’s pitch email on his blog and the PR agency refused to disclose the name of the client the strategy backfired. It led to wide negative publicity under the title “the Whisper Campaign”. Facebook was then exposed and this high profile case of defamation was criticized by the communication industry as unprofessional. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) stated bluntly that “Smear campaigns have no place in PR.” PRSA also accused Burston-Marsteller of violating the PR code of ethics: both by running the negative campaign and by not disclosing the identity of the client that hired them to do it. Eventually Burston-Marsteller had to publish a public apology reiterating their commitment to transparency about clients.

Dirty Politics, the new book by Nicky Hager, alleges that a similar, though longer and more sophisticated, smear campaign involved PR professionals serving the New Zealand Prime Minister. The argument that leaking negative stories about political opponents to media is common practice by all parties doesn’t seem to cover the outrage expressed by the public and other political parties about the access to privileged state secrets provided to specific bloggers collaborating with the PM’s spokespeople. Calls for legal action followed on the day the book was launched. They came from both sides – to inquire into both government spokespeople and Nicky Hager’s undisclosed sources. This promises to be a long-lasting and challenging task for court intervention as defamation cases are tricky and difficult to judge.

In many countries, the law recognises the value of reputation and credibility and balances it with the democratic rights of freedom of speech, expression and the freedom of the press. Malice and the intention to cause damage to a competitor, in either commercial or political cases, is often a major issue in defamation cases.

A precedent that is particularly relevant to public relations was set by an Israeli court in 2012. The Tel Aviv judge Dr. Michal Agmon-Gonnen ruled that negative campaigns were unacceptable practice and she fined a company for employing a PR agency whose plan included trashing the reputation of a commercial competitor. The company paid damages in negligence because the judge considered the PR plan as evidence for malice in its intentions to defame a competitor.

Agmon-Gonnen’s judgement stated:

There is no legitimacy in greater access to the media, which is achieved via public relations services that are bought with lots of money. It is a cynical and unlawful use of the freedom of press and freedom of expression . . . . A market in which media news are bought with money, and with irrelevant motivations, is a dangerous market of ideas, with destructive potential. This is not a free market in which the competition between different opinions and ideas leads to the exposure of the truth. This is a market in which the rich and the powerful have a clear advantage over others and they are the ones who dictate tomorrow’s headlines.

(Agmon-Gonnen, 2012 judgement, p. 26) [Author translation from Hebrew]

The law generally offers protection to defendants in defamation cases when the publicity meets two conditions – truthfulness and the public interest. The Israeli case exposed the unethical conduct of public relations practitioners who planned to spread untruthful stories and to argue that such a campaign to smear a competitor was an acceptable PR practice
In many cases public relations practitioners conduct negative campaigns to serve client goals not just in competitive markets but in political campaigns. At times this may serve the public interest by exposing essential information about public figures, political candidates, business people or even non-profit organisations that cheat or present a risk to society. But large questions remain. As long as the information provided in the negative campaign is true – should they be forbidden from publishing it on the grounds that a negative campaign could be considered illegal? However, as the Israeli judgment shows dirty trick campaigns have a long way to go before they can safely wrap themselves in a “freedom of expression” cloak. And the court of public opinion is more likely to support legal interventions to curtail smear campaigns that favour malice over substance.

For full paper on the Israeli case judgement of PR see:
Toledano, M. (2014). Judging public relations: An analysis of an Israeli court judgment on a defamatory and negative campaign. Public Relations Review Vol 40 (3). pp. 492-499

Guest Blog: PRINZ CEO Panel – Communicating ‘Brand Wellington’

15 Aug

Grace Loftus, Communications Advisor at MBIE

CEO Panel – Communicating ‘Brand Wellington’ was a PRINZ evening event held on Tuesday 5 August in Wellington.

How do you go about creating a brand for Wellington that appeals to both tourists and businesses alike? What are the challenges of bringing along those organisations and suppliers that will make your brand come to life?

On 5 August the Wellington chapter of PRINZ held a panel discussion aimed at answering these questions, featuring David Perks – CEO Positively Wellington Tourism (PWT); Gerard Quinn – CEO Grow Wellington; Sarah Meikle – CEO Wellington Culinary Events Trust; and Kevin Lavery – CEO Wellington City Council. The event was well attended, with around 40 attendees in all.

Each speaker took to the floor for ten minutes to discuss how each of their organisations is working (often with each other) to promote Wellington as the cultural and migration destination of choice in New Zealand.

CEO Panel photoThe first of the panel to take the floor, David Perks’ key achievement as CEO of PWT to date has been the naming of Wellington as one of the top 10 cities in the world to visit in 2011 by Lonely Planet.

Wellington regularly bucks national trends of decline in guest nights and international visitor arrivals by being nimble, tactical, and innovative. While tourism marketing is our shop window, marketing a city and marketing a country are very different things. Auckland and Wellington are both good urban experiences beyond the New Zealand countryside. David explained that in order to be successful, Wellington needs to tell a believable story beyond a one day visit or a one-sided nature experience. Marketing Wellington’s values of “act like a city, love like a village” helps bridge the gap between overseas and domestic perceptions of Wellington.

Next to speak was Gerard Quinn – CEO Grow Wellington. Gerard leads the Grow Wellington team in its efforts to grow Wellington’s economy and attract businesses, skilled people, and investment to the region. According to Gerard, Wellington is the first region in New Zealand to take a ‘whole of’ approach to marketing.

Gerard also chairs Creative HQ, the region’s high tech start-up accelerator and as part of the high-tech capital project leverages off successful companies like Trade Me, Xero, and Fronde to attract talent and investment to the region. Social media has been a great tool for Grow Wellington. It has allowed Wellington’s tech community to get behind the initiative and has been instrumental in attracting international interest in Wellington from people like Rob Janoff, designer of the iconic Apple logo.

Gerard said developing a value proposition, conducting a competitive city audit, and developing a brand toolkit to share with businesses were part of Grow Wellington’s marketing strategy.

Sarah Meikle – CEO Wellington Culinary Events Trust, also spoke about the need to bring the Wellington brand to life. She revealed how, when she worked for David at PWT, they turned Lonely Planet’s 2011 Capital of Cool declaration into a full-scale campaign in just four days.

She referred to Seth Godin’s definition of brand as: “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another. If the consumer (whether it’s a business, a buyer, a voter or a donor) doesn’t pay a premium, make a selection or spread the word, then no brand value exists for that consumer.”

A brand is not a logo; strategy is key – supported by research; and you need to look at what your competitors are doing. For Sarah there is only one Wellington.

Sarah finished with a question for the audience to ponder – “How do we work with exporters such as Whittakers, Matakina, etc to tell the Wellington story?”

Last to speak was Kevin Lavery – CEO Wellington City Council. Kevin reiterated what David and Gerard had mentioned about the challenge facing New Zealand in balancing the international image of the Kiwi great outdoors with the reality of New Zealand’s urban populations. The reality is 80% of New Zealand’s GDP is generated by cities; 80% of Kiwi jobs are in cities; and 3 out of 4 New Zealanders live in urban areas.

Kevin, together with Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, is currently working on ’8 Big Ideas’ for Wellington and was eager to communicate five key messages behind these ideas:

  1. Have an authentic and honest brand
  2. Your brand needs to be an integral part of a wider plan and delivery mechanisms
  3. Time is of the essence
  4. Have plenty of swag, confidence, and edginess
  5. Aim to be the best.

To be the best Wellington has to look beyond these shores to how the biggest cities in the world have successfully created and marketed their iconic brands. New York, Barcelona, and Glasgow were some standouts for him.

The panel session concluded with each panellist offering a vision for what they envisioned as a ‘job well done’:

David - “When other people write about Wellington as being ‘cool’, from sectors other than travel and tourism”
Gerard - “When an increasing number of businesses, talented people, international students and investors choose Wellington over another NZ and international cities”
Sarah - “When Wellington businesses tell Wellington’s story”
Kevin – “Well done is better than well said”

An interesting and insightful session on ‘Brand Wellington’ which provided the audience with plenty of material for questions and thoughts to take away from the night.

To see future events coming up in Wellington, Auckland, Hamilton and Christchurch, view the 2014 Events Calendar on the PRINZ website.


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