February Program Recap – Navigating Ethics and the Law in PR
Article by Lizzy Kelley, APR, Public Information Specialist, City of Tallahassee (FPRA member since 2010)
Speaker: Jenn Meale Poggie, Pinnacle Media
Friday, Feb. 25, 2022 | 8-9 a.m.
Hosted at Florida Health Care Association
- Trust is key to a PR practitioner’s success.
- Never write an email you don’t want on the front page of the news.
- To be most effective, PR practitioners need a seat at the decision table.
With a wealth of experience working within government and the private sector, Jenn Meale Poggie’s presentation provided a rational, real-world perspective to help PR professionals navigate ethics and the law.
Remarkably, Florida has had laws on the books pertaining to public records in 1909. While the laws have changed over the years, the need for PR professionals to understand them and act ethically has not.
Fulfilling public records requests is mandatory. How you do it can set you apart and set your clients up for success.
- Know what you’re providing.
- Prepare relevant key messages. Provide context, if needed. There is no law that says you can’t give the requester more than they asked for.
- Provide citations about statutory exemptions to ensure the requester understands why something is redacted or not included.
Gathering, reviewing and preparing public records can be time-intensive. If you receive a “grand ask” (i.e., something extremely broad), it is allowable to ask the requester if they can narrow the request. This will help them get what they want in a timelier fashion and save government resources. You also can provide a cost estimate and time frame for the grand ask, in line with Florida law.
When working with reporters, how you respond matters. Be deliberate, not emotional, no matter the topic.
When dealing with politics, you may be asked to respond on behalf of your client about another individual. Avoid any chance of libel, slander or defamation by never calling names. There are ways to politely phrase a response and get your message across, such as “In my opinion…” and “Any type of assertion like this is…”.
Poggie shared that she will talk on background with a reporter. For her, this means the information shared can be used in a story and attributed to the organization, but it cannot be attributed to a single person. She also will embargo information if she trusts the reporter. If the reporter does not honor the embargo, she will not use that approach with them in the future.
Trademark and copyright laws also are common obstacles PR professionals will encounter that must be respected. This is when creativity can shine. Use alternative language to work around items if needed, such as “The Big Game” in lieu of, well, that season-ending football game with the great commercials and a trademarked name.
The legal path is not always easy, so closely work with your counsel and stakeholders. This is especially important when commenting on litigation. The whole team should understand the theme and ideals of the organization’s stance and response. In each case, weigh response versus reward.
Your success as a PR professional for all of these issues hinges upon gaining and maintaining client trust. Building trust requires open, clear and honest communication. It is your job to present the PR perspective and options for varying situations. While it may be challenging at times, you cannot be a yes person. Always be prepared but respect all confidentiality.
Honest communication also requires PR professionals to avoid conflicts of interest. It is your job to communicate possible conflicts with existing clients and to not take on new clients that present conflicts, which could be competing objectives or personal.
An honest, ethical approach to your work will help you earn a seat at the table and demonstrate your professional value.
The Capital Chapter is very grateful to Jenn Meale Poggie for taking the time to speak with us, provide real-life examples of this topic in action, and answer our questions. Thank you also to our members for their hospitality in welcoming the LeadershipFPRA members who attended this meeting.
Extras Shared During the Meeting by Members:
- Class 7 applications are open for LeadershipFPRA.
- Check the job board for current openings. Several member organizations need assistance, from seasoned professionals to eager interns.
- FPRA’s Annual Conference will take place Aug. 7-10 at the Orlando Grande Lakes Ritz-Carlton. This year’s theme is “Your Ticket to Success.”