|February 2, 2010|
|'Social Media' Needs Safeguards|
|By Jack O'Dwyer|
|PR's madcap love affair with "social media" is in full gear with the $1,195 session at Coca-Cola headquarters in Atlanta Feb. 22-24 "sold out" (600). Live auditing is available at $1,095 for the Third Annual Ragan Communications Social Media Conference (link, PDF).|
Sponsor with top billing is Coke itself. Third billing goes to the National Association of Not Availables, the name we give to the PR Society of America because of its information-blocking policies not only with the press but members.
NANA COO Bill Murray will make a rare public appearance, speaking (symptomatically) about how "traditional media outlets are shrinking while social media channels seem to multiply daily."
Murray, in three years as COO has never appeared before the New York chapter nor any New York PR group, nor addressed the PR press.
Attendees are told that they will be able to "revolutionize" their "traditional PR strategies."
Lead-off speaker is Clyde Tuggle, (pictured) senior VP of global PA and communications of Coke. Also keynoters are New York Times tech columnist David Pogue and Brian Solis of FutureWorks.
With Coke taking such a lead in the social media "revolution," we have looked at Coke's extensive (three pages) "Online Social Media Principles."
Main Principle Is Buried
The main advice needed for bloggers getting payment of any kind is in the Coke "Principles" but it's buried.
Only on the third page, under ten "Expectations for Online Spokespeople," do we find (under No. 4), the words, "State your relationship with the Company from the outset, e.g., 'Hi, I'm John and I work for the Coca-Cola Co.'"
This should be the first sentence in the Coke principles.
Lawyer Michael Lasky of Davis & Gilbert told NANA/New York last week that the FTC requires identification of anyone making an endorsement or testimonial on the web. Such participants are considered "advertisers" by the Federal Trade Commission and must state that relationship. (link, sub req'd)
That reflects our view. PR pros, who are professional communicators, should deal with other professionals, namely journalists or other knowledgeable or expert sources tapped by journalists.
PR people can communicate directly with consumers, and more of this is taking place as traditional media shrink, but such communications are legally advertising and are subject to extensive rules about endorsements and how endorsements are disclosed.
Punishment can include "cease and desist" orders but the worst punishment is public disclosure. Lasky noted the huge publicity that surrounded broadcaster Armstrong Williams and the Dept. of Education when it was revealed in 2006 that Williams was paid by the DoE to speak well of "No Child Left Behind."
A side issue here is Coke and Pepsi promoting themselves as public-spirited companies when many of their products contribute to obesity, As much as 64% of the U.S. population is overweight and it is a particular problem among youth. It is not only a factor in heart disease, diabetes and other diseases but has resulted in many overweight adults having to get new knees and hips. Fat people have a harder time finding a mate.
Coke in Bed with NANA?!
We wonder where Coke's sensitivities were when it got into bed with NANA.
Coke in 2000 paid $192.5 million to settle charges of racial discrimination. African-American salaried employees claimed Coke discriminated against them in pay, promotions and evaluations.
The 2010 NANA board, despite attempts by a noted African-American to join it, remains all-white. Ofield Dukes, described by 2009 NANA chair Mike Cherenson as a "legend," was turned down when he sought a seat on the 2010 NANA board. Instead, he was "sent to the back of the bus" as a non-voting member.
The NAACP and the law firm of Mehri & Skalet, which won the case against Coke and similar cases against Texaco and Ford, have surveyed the ad/PR industries and found that black executives are only 10% as likely as white counterparts to hold a post paying $100K+.
NAACP and M&S have talked about a possible class action lawsuit but nothing has yet been filed.
Coke's Crockett Sat on NANA Board
Ray Crockett, (pictured) head of North American PR for Coke, sat on the 2007 NANA board as a non-voting member after being appointed by 2007 chair Rhoda Weiss. NANA/Georgia is the second biggest chapter with nearly 1,000 members in its area.
Crockett's presence on the board in effect gave Coke's approval to the numerous noxious practices of NANA/national including withholding the transcripts of the Assemblies from 2005-2008 and refusing even to make a transcript of the Nov. 7, 2009 Assembly. That meeting was heralded as the most important in the history of NANA since bylaws were completely re-written.
Almost three months after the Assembly, NANA has yet to publish the minutes of it. Names of Assembly delegates are available only to delegates and they have to make a request for this.
Multicultural Section Dissolved
NANA, in the last two weeks of 2009, dissolved the Multicultural section claiming the 73 members were below the quota of 200.
Despite protests by leaders of the section, who say they were not adequately warned of such an action, there has been no move to re-instate the section.
Coke executive Frank Stansberry expressed outrage in 1994 when the NANA nominating committee rejected African-American Debra Miller for treasurer, which would have made her the 50th anniversary president in 1997.
The nomcom instead picked Janice Newman, whose firm name, "Newman, Newman & Jones," was found to be misleading. The second Newman and the Jones were not "real people" but represented her "talents." When asked if she had any experience in managing the finances of a big organization, she replied, "My own retirement fund."
Miller, who had a Ph.D. in education, was responsible for managing the $2 million budget for the Journalism & Mass Communications Dept. at Florida International University.
Miller Was Shafted and Ignored
Miller was seen as a maverick because she was only the second person in the history of NANA to oppose an official candidate. Frank Wylie in 1973 had opposed James Fox for vice chairman and lost.
Although NANA had never talked about the 50th anniversary being in any year but 1997, even seeking a stamp saying “1947-1997,” the board decided that the 50th anniversary would be celebrated in 1998 because the New York State charter arrived at h.q. in March of 1948. Miller was cheated out of being the anniversary president.
Continuing her role as maverick, she disclosed the 1996 financial report in February of 1997, not making members wait until May or June for the “audit.” She conducted a survey of member opinions (the last such published survey), and also urged h.q. to employ a number of PR professionals.
After her term, NANA went back to releasing financials around mid-year and continued its policy of minimal PR staff at h.q.
Huggins Quits NANA Board
The resignation of NANA board member Catherine Huggins (link, sub req'd) puts the spotlight on the dysfunctional governance of NANA. It is out of step with the major professional groups such as those for lawyers, doctors, CPAs and psychologists.
All the above get their direction from bodies similar to the Assembly.
They boss the board around and not vice versa as at NANA.
Directors of those groups carry out policy that is set by their delegates who meet at least twice a year (vs. once a year for the NANA Assembly).
Huggins, who answered 13 questions we put to her when she ran for the board in 2008 (link, sub req'd), was able to talk to us last week since she is no longer a director of NANA. She told us of her new job and of the many things she had been doing for NANA including working on advocacy and getting PR recognized by business schools.
There is no need whatever for her to quit since there are 16 other directors to share the workload.
Every time a NANA director quits the only reason given is “work load.” Does anyone believe that?
If they have so much “work” to do it's because they allow the paid ($5.4M) staff to virtually bar PR pros from working at h.q. It's a hospital without doctors that has to depend on volunteers.
The current board lacks even one PR person of national stature.
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