2012 EMU PRSSA Ethics Summit with Jim Burke: The Morals of the Story

Jim Burke with e-board members of EMU PRSSA.

This past Tuesday, EMU PRSSA held a discussion in the Student Center about the importance of ethics in public relations and business. The students of Eastern Michigan University received a crash course into the world of ethics thanks to guest speaker Jim Burke, who is not only the Director of Global Communications for Federal-Mogul Corporation, but also holds the ethics chair for PRSA Detroit.
As Ethics Chairperson, Burke deals with issues concerning ethics in the field of PR and makes sure ethics remain foremost for PRSA by sharing stories and findings with other PRSA members. Burke’s passion for ethics leads him to speak to different groups, people, and organizations about this topic. We have annotated some key points, facts, and thoughts he shared with us during his informative session.

• Ethics is defined by Marriam-Webster as “the discipline dealing with what is good and bad and with moral duty and obligation”

• Ethics has been around since the 14th Century

• “Ethics is not cut and dry. There is a lot of grey space.”

• Most organizations have a code of ethics, but sometimes, they can deviate from them, like Enron did.

Here’s Burke discussing some of the popular ethical issues over the last decade.

A great quote shared by Jim Burke from Shannon A Bowen PHD concerning Ethics and PR – “An unfortunate belief among many journalists, policy makers, and laymen is the belief that the term ‘public relations ethics’ is an oxymoron: either an unreal possibility, or smoke and mirrors to hide deception.”

• Ivy Lee is considered one of the founding fathers of PR, but the truth is, he was known as a professional liar. In 1914 in Colorado, there was a revolt from angry coal workers who worked for John D. Rockefeller Jr. and Standard Oil. Things got carried away and many of the workers were shot by members of the Colorado Forces. Ivy Lee, the PR representative of the company wrote in a letter to the family of the victims that the people who died rebelling actually died when a stove was overturned. Ever since the Ludlow Massacre, Ivy Lee became known as “Poison Ivy” by Upton Sinclair and many critics.

• Netflix experienced their own ethics issues when they hired actors to play roles and hype up one of their new offerings. Reporters caught on and made Netflix look silly after they realized what was going on. Failure in ethics leads to humiliation.

• Ethics is something that can be taught, but also needs to be reinforced through professional organizations and other individuals you work with.

• PRSA has three legs when dealing with ethics 1) Code of Ethics 2) Personal Responsibility and 3) Professional Opportunity.

• PRSA has six keystones to the ethics code – Independence, loyalty, fairness, advocacy, honesty, and expertise

• Social Media Ethics: If you respond to a blog as anonymous or write one as anonymous, you can still be sued for libel.

• Social Media Ethics: On Facebook or other social media, try not to post private pictures from your work place. A doctor in New York posted a picture of one of his patient’s brain. Let’s just say, Syracuse Upstate Medical Center did not tolerate this.

• Social Media Ethics: Whole Foods CEO used a fake name to knock a company they were planning to purchase on Yahoo Financial’s discussion area. Result: He was discovered and an inquiry was made by the SEC.

• Social Media Ethics has four cornerstones – trust, disclosure, transparency, and honesty

• Always give credit where credit is due, don’t plagiarize.

• Things to look out for in an Organization to see if you have ethic issues: lax control, under-reporting or not reporting something at all, over-looking bad behavior, questionable methods, structuring compromising incentives, and ignoring rogue behaviors.

BURKE MODEL – Ethics Decision Making Guide

  • Assess Situation: 4 W’s and How & potential impact on an organization
  • Know where you stand
  • Consider ramifications
  • Determine your approach
  • Proceed

• When dealing with an issue, be professional. Take the emotion out of stressful situations and approach it rationally. Burke said, “Step back, take a breath, cool off, and approach it.”

Burke also gave us this guide to use when ethical situations arise at your workplace.

These were just some of the topics that Burke discussed.  When it comes to an extensive guide, he said that every PR practitioner should adhere to PRSA’s code of ethics.

Scott Mullin

Chief Financial Officer

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2 responses to “2012 EMU PRSSA Ethics Summit with Jim Burke: The Morals of the Story

  1. Great recap, Scott! I was so bummed that I had to leave early.

  2. This was such an informative and fun event! I was so glad to have attended! Great job Scott!

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