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Reputation Management and Appropriation, Lessons in Ethics from Edmond Dantès

My study of communications and public relations was taught by passionate adherents to Ivy Lee’s Declaration of Principles – that it is the ethical responsibility of a public relations practitioner to offer uncompromising truth to the public on behalf of one’s clients. Perhaps because of this, and despite working in high tech for 16 years, it should be un-surprising that I view the use of technology in the form of bots exponentially deployed during the United States 2016 presidential elections, let alone anywhere else, as abhorrent.

My various social media accounts address the complexities of my person; Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram serve as outlets for my professional existence while Pinterest and Facebook are more intimate expressions – at the intersection of these social platforms is my blog. While I have a blog I wouldn’t necessarily consider myself ‘a blogger’ (it is not a commercial venture). Yet my writing on this platform, having gone viral, has had impact – in part responsible for shifting public policy and the proposed exploitation of the pristine waters of the Adriatic in 2015/2016.  While building my own Instagram presence I admit to being thoroughly perplexed as to how (with the quality of photos and nominal content offered) fellow travel specific accounts could possibly have earned followers approaching 100,000 in less than a month. Thus, the clarity offered in reading Jess Gibson’s Dear PRs post referencing ‘bot-gate’ was genuinely appreciated, and it’s also why I take a particular delight at the failure of Instagress.

The truth has always found a way to be revealed, in our connected world discovery of appropriation, fraud or illicit behavior comes down to days, minutes or even seconds with a few keystrokes and keen intelligence. Throughout history there have been individuals whose jealousy, ruthlessness, greed and sloth have risked fortunes and reputations for (perceived) gain or retribution – Alexandre Dumas’ The Count of Monte Cristo anyone? Just as Edmond Dantès took full advantage of his time falsely imprisoned to learn every skill imaginable in developing a faultless reputation and re-branding himself, every effort in thought leadership and in garnering a dedicated follower base, and fostering epic levels of engagement takes considerable patience, skill and acuity.

Beyond the Instagram bloggers’ ‘bot-gate’ other more widely known unveilings of deceit relate to appropriation of the resistance movement by Pepsi and State Street of New York City’s iconic bronze sculpture created by Arturo Di Modica.

The Tate Modern offers this essay on appropriation,

[…] to create a new situation, and therefore a new meaning or set of meanings, for a familiar image. Appropriation art raises questions of originality, authenticity and authorship…

All great art is subversive, a commentary manifest with physicality. Co-opting the passion found in resistance to injustice in its many forms, feminism, racism, environmental stewardship, and its related arts for commercial gain by the advertising industry has a vast history in the United States.

Fearless-girl-vs-arturo-di-modica

I don’t like what Fearless Girl ‘is’ specifically because she is contrived by Mad Men to gender-wash their clients’ bottom line. The $2.5 trillion (under management) State Street Global Advisors opted for a publicity stunt on International Women’s Day of instead of doing the long overdue ‘hard work’ of creating a work environment of equality and gender partity or proactively investing in education for girls on a global basis. For the unaware allow me to point out that advertising (in which both Pepsi and State Street engaged) is only related to public relations as it is a part of the greater communication functions in general. It seems to me if you are retained to represent the interests of a seven or eight figure client your responsibilities should include candid risk assessment to any proposal you present. Ultimately this all comes down to proactive reputation management versus putting your client in the rather costly position of damage control through crisis management.

With so much to lose why take a chance in the first place?

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Exploring relationship compatibility

I believe that the structure of any relationship, of establishing trust, of migrating toward rather than pulling away from another is based upon tiny imperceptible nuances of behavior as well as ‘acceptable’ standards. Some people just ‘fit’ together with ease, others find a way of working through to meet someplace in the middle, some compromise better than others. Still, there is the level of self-esteem we cultivate within us which tends to set the bar a bit higher (hopefully) for people entering our lives. I do not believe that culture or religion or geography or age have so much to do with this as the individuals involved – a natural harmony that is easy to feel as well as to recognise in its absence.

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Gustavian-style five arm chandelier – click to reach my Pinterest.

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Click to reach my Pinterest

It’s no secret that I aspire to make a move to Sweden.  As a quasi-realist I recognise the total impracticality of shipping 30 years of my worldly possessions via slow boat and then being hit with any related import duties on my fantastic collection of 18th and 19th century antiques.  No, I am selling most of this before leaving the States.  Given the wonders of the Internet I am able to poke around Stockholm online to source ‘replacements’.  I am currently nominally sick to my stomach over my inability to have negotiated the purchase of two such pieces – one, a slightly damaged (could always be restored) Gustavian-style five arm (non-electrified) chandelier and the other, a very practical, early 19th century bracket foot English mahogany butler’s writing bureau with the original brasses and key!  As anyone could see from the photos, even without knowledge of my specific decorating aesthetic, these two pieces would have been amazing in the same room, my living room ‘to be’ in Stockholm.  In the United States, specifically Boston or NYC, these two pieces combined would have a retail cost someplace considerably north of $10,000 (as I discovered a nearly identical chandelier is priced at $28,500! at Belevdere Antiques they also have a similar writing bureau in stock though it is Swedish); yet their final combed price with 22% auction commission and a ‘whatever fee’ of $60 USD each would have brought their grand total to $364.50 USD.  Yes, you read quite correctly, THREE HUNDRED, SIXTY-FOUR DOLLARS AND FIFTY CENTS. Now, some of you antique freaks are likely screaming at your computer monitor “WTF! WHY DIDN’T YOU BID??” let me explain. For starters to bid it was requisite to have a Swedish social security number, which I wouldn’t have been able to secure in time for the ending time this afternoon and their offices were closed when I discovered the auction late yesterday and so would have been impossible to come up with a Plan B; the second half of the reason has more to do with my opening paragraph.

You see I DID actually reach out to a man in Sweden that I had met through OKCupid some months ago and with whom there has been a very nice dialogue. He has done some remarkably thoughtful things (such as sharing advertisements for jobs) so I asked him if he would do this favour for me, and in exchange, as he is recently divorced, he could use the bureau until such time as I got myself to Stockholm. It was a practical, logical solution in which everyone would win – and he could have been a hero to me.  To be fair, I proposed the structure of this be such that gave him the amounts I could spare for each item and even strategically framed the “how to” to improve my chances of success. I figured out what I could afford, plus the fees, and gave him the amount and told him that I would transfer the funds to him via PayPal IMMEDIATELY at the close of the auction.

My rationale in purchasing these being that I was going to need a place to write, to store some of my clothes and, for romantic evenings cooking and cuddling with my potential lover that a chandelier with candles was going to be incredibly ‘practical’.  But, despite that I am so transparent, and that this lovely man seemed very interested in exploring some kind of a relationship with me, something was off in his willingness to do ‘my bidding’ as it were. I don’t think it is being American or being Swedish, and I would like to believe that it wasn’t even about the time involved or the technical logistics of my transferring the money, but I am sure it is about trust.  Trust cuts both ways. From my perspective to prove I trusted him enough to assist with my migration, I was willing to hand over the money “in good faith” in advance of actually having physical possession so that he would assume zero financial exposure. I figured in the event that he absconded with the chandelier and the bureau, it would be relatively inexpensive in contrast with something potentially much more costly later on.  But the Skype dialogue made it quickly clear that this wasn’t within his comfort zone. He wasn’t inclined to bid on the pieces without my arranging the money to be sent to him in advance, (as if I had a crystal ball to determine what the end bid would be and the amount I would owe him) and, as he doesn’t have a PayPal account, I couldn’t even (easily) transfer the funds to him post auction; a logistics nightmare.

I have to recognise that when it comes to extending ourselves for other people, or levels of trust, that not everyone is easy with entangling their lives with others to the same degree I am.  There will be other auctions, and other chandeliers and desks and chests of drawers and carpets and art to decorate my new home and I just have to let go of the ones that got away.  (Though my frustration at not ‘getting the look’ for a pittance borders on apoplectic.) I also came to realise two other things from this experience – that although damn inconvenient to live minimally again once I arrive in Sweden, as with most of my life, I need to do these things myself and, this man is so clearly not the right man for me.

Grandstanding

A watermelon sitting on my kitchen counter earlier today brought to mind the word ‘grandstanding’ – bear with me for a couple hundred words while I make my point.

ImageJust for a moment think of the social media sphere as a pickup truck loaded with a hundred watermelons so that one watermelon can make it to your kitchen counter. Within the whole of social media my content output and influence is not even the equivalent of a single watermelon seed.

It’s not that I am unaware of the potential for global influence as a result of dedicated effort, cohesion of my ‘brand’ and ‘cross-pollinating’ (the practice of making sure of each social media platform receives the nectar from my efforts).  Nor am I lazy or unfocused when passionate about a topic.  I have dear friends, and people I certainly am connected to on Linkedin, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and Google+, who have leveraged their expertise, well-turned phrases and amplification skills into international radio shows, bestselling books, and well-paying keynote speaking opportunities and consulting gigs.  But for myself, a marketing communications professional of many years, I am remarkably uncomfortable standing in the spotlight.  My work is about making my employer or client and their product suite or value proposition look great in front of their constituent audiences –behind the scenes.  In my own authorship (media both traditional and social) it is a philosophy of gratitude, awareness of beauty and authenticity that stirs my cauldron of words.  But understanding what I do about resonance (in public relation parlance Third Party Validation) it is pure joy to use my skills to issue communications in the form of a well-deserved #shoutout for those individuals or organisations whose superlative efforts to make the world a more resonate, hopeful, cooperative, holistic, spiritual place.

We have all experienced the individual whose need to be the center of attention in business meetings and at cocktail parties makes them a pariah.  They divert the topic being discussed to something ‘more personally relevant’ or take over the floor without place on the agenda or invitation.  ImageTheir etiquette skills ceased developing beyond their four year old selves.

In our always ‘on’ globally connected world these people are just as unwelcome as their very scary brethren, the Internet Troll. The difference between the two is subtle but significant – the former have may offer real value but need ‘netiquette’ counseling and the latter are jealous, nasty, narrow minded often anonymous individuals screaming obscene vitriol in boldface and capital letters (those who forced Kellogg’s to drop its endearing mixed race family Cheerio commercial come to mind).

The netiquette pariah, the grand-stander, piggybacks onto messaging created by those individuals whose extensive pool of followers and influence, detracting from the influencers’ core message. And, for the influencer (and their followers) the distractor often negatively impacts both ‘the brand’ as well as diminishes the potential impact which might be realized in the original well-crafted salient and succinct posting. The amplification is loss to the noise of the grand-stander. Their volumes of unrelated text (though perhaps fantastically valuable information if presented in the proper context) are social media toxic waste on multiple levels.  The grand-stander is like the sheer volume of the pickup truck of whole 20 pound watermelons when the original communication is a single Lycopene rich 1cup serving.

So, my watermelon is all cut up and in the refrigerator. The rind has been food processer’d in three batches and worked into the garden soil to enrich what I have labored and nurtured for the last five years – just as you’ve been building your social media presence. Out in Netopia-land (apologies to the brand) there exist persons who will not see that they are gross violators of netiquette and unwelcome trespassers. Just as Ann Landers used to suggest to readers that they clip her column and leave it where it might spur a conversation, if you have experienced such violation – feel free to repost (or forward in the private message) my blog to bring the grand-stander ‘enlightenment’ around their un-welcomed behavior. Otherwise, take Kellogg’s example and unfriend, report as spam or block, or more drastically consider deleting the message accordingly to preserve your brand.

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