by Lilly Wright
It’s no secret that PR has a bad reputation. ‘Spin doctor’ is often used to describe a PR practitioner – just one of the many negative stereotypes of the profession. The general belief is that PR is used to cover up the ugly side of a brand or their wrong doing, and quite literally spin the truth to make it seem like something positive – a lie.
However, it can be argued that it isn’t the profession that can be unethical and deceiving. I believe that it really all depends on the individual practicing the profession, and not the profession itself. This can be applied to multiple careers. For instance, Sports Direct have been uncovered by the media for the poor treatment of their staff with employees working long hours, sometimes below minimum wage, and intrusive bag searches before and after shifts. Whilst Lush Cosmetics are praised for their excellent internal communications with frequent spa trips available for their staff, good salaries and support services. The CEO and board of directors at Sports Direct don’t have to imply these rules, they do not need to treat their staff the way they do. Just the same with Lush, they don’t HAVE to treat their staff as well as they do – but they do. It’s a matter of choice. They’ve chosen to prioritise employee welfare which creates a positive reputation for the company. In comparison to Sports Direct whom rely on their sales and not the well-being of their employees. You could say it depends on the person and how they wish to run their business, which supports my belief that it isn’t the job role, it’s the individual.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) emphasise the importance of good ethics in PR. They have created a professional code of conduct for practitioners to follow, which states members of CIPR are expected to display “ethical competence” throughout their work.
We can look at two case studies to see the difference in an ethical, positive campaign with good intentions, and a truly awful, insensitive approach to a campaign.
How to do it
We’ll start with the (really) good campaign, and one of my personal favourites – Always #LikeAGirl. Launched in 2015, the campaign set out to change gender stereotypes. Research shows girls’ self-esteem dropping twice as much as boys’ during puberty and more importantly, women never regain the self-esteem lost (boo you, puberty). The phrase ‘like a girl’ is more than often used as an insult for someone who is over-emotional, weak or just useless. To fight this, Always ran a social experiment in which they asked young girls and boys to run/fight ‘like a girl’. The boys acted out the insulting stereotype exactly how expected. Yet when the young girls were asked to do so they ran and fought the best they could, with confidence and self-belief. They clearly had not yet been influenced by the stereotype. For these young women, to do something ‘like a girl’ simply meant…do it the best they could.
As you can imagine, the campaign exploded with more than 90m views and shooting to the number two viral video globally. Not only that but 177,000 #LikeAGirl Tweets in the first 3 months alone! With a fantastic outcome, positive objectives and a completely ethical campaign, I believe this to be a perfect example of how to do PR right and more importantly, how it can and SHOULD be done.
How not to do it
Now to the not so good, and quite frankly, down right awful.
In the very same year that Always were trying to fight gender stereotypes and help young women feel inspired…Krispy Kreme thought it would be a good idea having a Ku Klux Klan related promotion. Yeah, really.
The Hull branch launched Krispy Kreme Klub (KKK) Wednesdays and were soon made to drop the promotion after a series of (understandable) complaints. The aim was to draw in customers and their children during the half term with a series of planned events throughout the week. Also on the list was ‘Colouring Tuesday’ and ‘Face Painting Thursday’. Quickly branded “the most racist way to enjoy doughnuts” by The Independent, the campaign certainly did no favours for Krispy Kreme’s reputation.
Not only was the campaign offensive, inconsiderate and unethical – it’s also a prime example of how you shouldn’t practice PR. How many people approved this campaign by before it was published? How many people were involved with the design of it? And more importantly, why did no one realise or care about the connotations of KKK Wednesday?