PR in Pop Culture

ss-090913-vma-tease.300wSo, you would have to live in a cave not to hear about the MTV Video Music Awards (VMAs) last night and appalling behavior by Kanye West. If you are unaware, check out the story here.

As most of us know, there is a school of thought that says all publicity is good. I would have to disagree with that theory. While it’s true that the world is talking about Kanye and his actions, does the message being sent really put him in the best light? My answer is no. In my opinion, the true winners in this case is Beyonce and Taylor Swift, both of whom walked away from the night with physical trophies and endless support from the music industry and fans alike.

From a PR perspective, I’ve heard the “all publicity is good” argument for years. While the point of publicity is to get your name in the news, why would someone choose to have their name associated with negative stories? I’ve yet to figure that out, and stay mystified today.

Now my PR mind says that Kanye is targeting an audience that wants to root for the “bad boy” and will support his record sales no matter what he does on stage or in front of a national audience. Perhaps his research shows that the only way he can continue to sell records is to misbehave and stir things up. If that’s the case, then the message being sent to those fans is seriously flawed. And I have to ask about the ethics of the publicists being paid by Kanye who came up with this idea. Ethics is a touchy subject, and varies by individuals.

I live by the “golden rule” — Treat others as you wish to be treated. I abide by that rule in everything I do. I treat people with respect professionally and personally. I would never dream up a PR scheme that would humiliate and embarrass another person or organization.

What do you think? What Kanye right or wrong? Is it true that all publicity is good? I am curious about your thoughts.


What is Professionalism?

Discussions that help define professionalism have been written in many places over the past few months. I find this to be an interesting topic, and wondered a bit about where people stand in their thinking.

Definitions of professionalism range from Merriam-Webster to Wikipedia … in between are efforts such as this one and this one or this one. In nearly 15 years working professionally I have determined my own definition and believe that professionalism relates more to behavior, ethics/integrity and overall work ethic.


Behavior is critical to whether or not you are a professional. This can be anything from timeliness at work to maintaining a positive attitude in the office and with co-workers. But this also pertains to whether or not you are consistent in your behavior. Do you treat your male and female colleagues the same way? Do you plot ways to one-up a co-worker or identify opportunities to throw someone under the proverbial bus? While you may not admit it openly, there are numerous examples in work places around the world of this occurring. To me, this is not professional behavior. I work very hard to build relationships with my co-workers and colleagues that are centered on mutual trust, respect and the ability to work well together.

Ethics & Integrityprofessionalism

Behavior translates into ethics and integrity. Can people trust you completely? Do you act everyday with the company’s best interest in mind? Do you spend the company’s money as if it were your own? Do you lie or cheat your way into promotions and raises simply because you expect to get ahead? That is not professional behavior to me. Rather, that is the behavior of CEOs who have wound up fired or in jail for actions that have ruined companies and individuals. I live by a personal moral code that translates into honest, open behavior. I abide by a professional code of ethics as a public relations professional. Both of these solidify my belief that professionalism is not about you getting ahead or playing the corporate game well.

Work Ethic

I was raised by a father who grew up on a farm. That meant we were trained to work just as hard as he did growing up, just not at farm labor. We had chores that had to be completed along with homework every day. I was also taught that “idle hands are the devil’s playground”. This means I learned very young to keep myself busy with productive activities. As I’ve worked my way into a career as a marketing and PR person, it’s become evident to me that not everyone had the same work ethic. Comments such as “That’s not my job” are common place in many businesses, but do not represent a professional attitude. A professional work ethic means someone puts in the hours that your employer is paying for, but also going above and beyond when it’s required. Maintaining a positive attitude is important, albeit challenging at times. As a former boss of mine said, attitude equals altitude. If you maintain positivity, then you’ll be more likely to gain recognition and desired promotion within your career.

What do you think? Are there traits of professionalism that I missed?

Importance of Learning

After more than a dozen years working in communications and marketing, one of the most important things I have learned is to never stop the education. During my undergrad years of college, I fought tooth and nail to finish my degree program so I could graduate and move into the “real world”. Little did I know but all that information I learned would only get me so far once I started my career. Following are a few tips I’d like to share with anyone, new or seasoned:

1) Ask questions ~ Never assume that you know the answers. Making assumptions, to me, means a professional is entering a stagnant phase in his or her career. My mentors over the years have shown me that being curious and looking to expand your horizons allows one to build more trust among colleagues and leadership. Be wise in your questions though. That leads me to point #2 …

2) Listen carefully ~ Pay attention to what is being said around you. In my experience, the communications professionals in most organizations are the people who need to know that most. While it’s rude to eavesdrop, be open to listening to conversations when they occur around you to gain insight into your business, your employees and the general culture of the organization. Through the years, I have become the go-to person for leadership when they need feedback on decisions that are being made because people trust me to listen and hear what is being said. However, that brings to mind point #3 …

3) Gain trust ~ Asking questions and listening carefully, along with being the communications representative for the company, usually means you are privy to information that may or may not be shared with others in your business or outside. Learn to discern what can be shared, what ethically must be shared and where to draw the line on remaining silent. The public relations practice is governed by a code of ethics through our national industry association, Public Relations Society of America. Each of us has internal morals and principles that guide us. Look to the code of ethics as a guideline by which to practice but also build a reputation of integrity, honesty and responsibility. Your professional and personal credibility is on the line.

4) Find a mentor ~ I have been fortunate in my career to have found amazing professionals who are my mentors to this day. These men and women have taught me a great deal about the communications profession and how I can strengthen my skill sets. I turn to each regularly for feedback and insight on my career, decisions I need to make, and more. I consider each a friend as much as mentor. A good mentoring relationship should never end. Thanks to these individuals, I have adopted an attitude that I hope will facilitate relationships with younger professionals where I act as a mentor. I believe it is my responsibility to share my knowledge, but I also learn a great deal from younger professionals too. And that takes me back to where I started …

5) Continue your education ~ Never stop learning. Whether you decide to pursue a graduate degree, are fortunate to work for a business with an internal professional development program, or choose to pursue education options on your own, find ways to stay on top of new communication trends. Also very important is to expand your knowledge to other areas of business. Look to learn about finance, IT, operations, and other functional areas of a business in order to make yourself an invaluable employee. One of the best pieces of advice I received (from a mentor) was to temporarily find assignments in other departments in order to be a better communicator.