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When You Have To Promote The Bad Guy

Not all PR practitioners are evil

Sometimes I hate my career as a Public Relations practitioner so much because I think it is everything fake about this world. Even more terrible than its sibling, Advertising, PR’s mission is to trick you to love the clients it serves while pretending to not do so. For example, if Advertising constantly tells you straight-forward to buy this cool product, PR in its pure form will say, “Okay, I love you no matter what. You are my angel. By the way, do you know all of the angels up there use this cool product? Nah, you won’t necessarily need it. I just think it’s a fun fact.”

(actually, it’s even more subtle. I just can’t think of a better example for now).

Then come other times when I love this career to the crazy point. It has taught me how to genuinely care for people. I’m really not good at lying and faking (and believe me, I wish I were). The only way I could thrive as a PR practitioner is to act nice even in my mindset. If I need to flatter someone, I will pay attention to pick the truly positive trait. Who doesn’t have some of them? Why have to fake if you can tell the truth?

Unfortunately, PR is not just about flattering and compliment. Sometimes you have to have one or two tricks up your sleeve. (oh, who am I kidding?! You gotta have a LOT of tricks.)

As for PR practitioners, being naive is very unhealthy. When you’re not prepared or your moral values are too rigid, you either get crushed, or even worse, you will become super evil after seeing your own morality betrays you. On some level, I think being naive and rigid in PR industry was quite… unethical since your service will be terrible. God bless any clients who hire you.

But when one thinks she can bear it no more, when it seems as if she reaches the edge of the her conscience’s cliff and only one more step will she fall, what should she do?

When should a PR professional quit her job?

I asked one of my professors if she ever quit a gig or a job because it violated her ethics. She told the whole class that one time she left the job at an agency because it assigned her to work on a project for a fracking company. That’s how she ended up teaching at my school.

How can I know when I should quit, I asked her.

To be honest, I don’t remember exactly what she told me after that, but you can guess the answer. That tough decision depends on you and your own morality. No one can do the math for you.

I started to find a formula for my own, in an attempt to answer the question when I should leave a job. What if I had to promote a bad guy? What if I had to lie to cover something terrible? What is right and wrong? Should I do something bad to defend a good cause?

I’ve been struggled to solve that homework until I had one of the best talks with chi Mai – the best lawyer I’ve ever met. (Okay, to be fair, she is the first lawyer I’ve met and worked with. But she is truly superb anyway.) Let’s say chi Mai graduated from Harvard and soon will finish her degree at Boston College – another famous school. She used to work for Duane Morris (a big law firm, that’s all I know) and is currently working at another big law firm, Foley Hoag.

As any kid out there who is very confused of how the world should function, at one point in our relationship, I asked chi Mai.

“Hey Chubby Mai (that’s a funny nickname. She’s not fat and she just finished her first 10K last weekend while I’m still choking down on cakes and donuts), what do you think about lawyers defending the bad guys? Do you guys feel bad for that?”

I asked this question purely out of curiosity, not knowing that her simple, clear but mind-blowing answer will not only shed  light on my confusion about lawyers but also help solving my question.

“It’s all about fairness. Even if a guy did something bad, he still has the right to be heard.

Even for a person whom all of the evidences seem to be against, he deserves a chance to show the judge his side of the story regardless. If the good guy is encouraged to do it, so is the bad.”

In terms of PR, every entity deserves to be promoted wholeheartedly by their PR employees/ agencies. Each of us can have a very different set of moral rules, but no matter which one relies on to make a decision, one should never forget to consider the above concept.

When the storm comes…

At this point, you might be thinking, “But the poor and good guy doesn’t have enough money to afford an excellent lawyer.” Okay, this is unfair, but the lawyer is not the one responsible for this kind of unfairness.

Of course I know it’s not exactly the same, lawyers defending the guilty guys and PR professionals promoting them. What comforts me is that I found the tipping point where I can base my decision later on if one day I have to consider to call it quit.

I won’t lie, hopefully. All of the positive things I use to describe my client will be the truth. Since every bad guy deserve a chance to show their best sides, it’s my job to strategically pick those sides and disclose them to the public. If I can’t find any good thing about them, if they don’t want to compromise to give me a chance to, that will be the tipping point.

If you already have a negative view about Public Relations, this article might do no good. I’m not trying to convince you either. Hell, it is my major and it still has given me years of confusion and doubts in my conscience. I wrote it rather for myself to recap a long path I’ve gone through to seek the answer for the question of when I should quit. One day, I might look back at this article and know that the time has come.

How much moral is enough and when should you quit? Chances are you will learn your answers through another path than mine, but here is my little head-up: morality is not black and white but million shades of gray.

Let’s think about the bamboo tree in the storm. It rarely breaks or uproots because it’s flexible enough to sway and bend with the strong winds. After the strongest wind tires itself out, the bamboo stands tall and still thanks to its solid foundation.

Take the time and effort to establish those roots of knowledge and ethics. After that, don’t afraid to sway.

Rio Lam Signature

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Published in Diary Eng Public Relations

One Comment

  1. “It’s all about fairness.”

    Sometimes when it comes too far, a tipping point is the thing you should stick at. For me, when you try to blurring the line between facts and lies, that is when you betrays your morality. Just an pop-up thinking after reading your article. Thank you for your recap!

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