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Ethics in Public Relations: Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads

The main character of the issue is a PR director at Buzz World, which is a Tuscon-based PR firm. He represents a national trade group called American Cement Association (ACA). The ACA has been following high-growth cities that are preparing to vote on road improvement plans across the country. The ACA hired Buzz World to organize and manage a citizen’s group in Tuscon called Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads. The purpose of the group is to persuade local voters to pass Tuscon’s aggressive road expansion plan. However, there occurred opposition from local environmental groups opposed to it. The ACA asked to keep its involvement confidential. Nevertheless, a reporter from the local TV news station learns about ACA and contacts the Buzz World PR director for information regarding who is funding and backing Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads. Thereafter, the main character faces a controversial situation. On the one hand, he has to preserve confidence, which was asked by the client. He is a professional in the sphere and has to devise a strategy of PR campaign for Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads from the beginning until the end. On the other hand, if the reporter has already got a piece of information about ACA involvement, it is clear that the media will not stop at that and will try to reveal as many details as possible. Thus, environmental defenders and Tuscon citizens will know the situation in any case. Apparently, one more goal the PR director has to reach during the project leading is finding a balance. He has to represent Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads at the highest level, while focusing on benefits that will become tangible for the high growth of city. He also has to minimize the rumors around the project, the funding, and negative outcome, without hiding the information. As a result, the community (the media, environmental preserving organization, and others) has to be sure that decisions are approved for reaching the common good, and peoples votes have to be given for the plan proposed.

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There is a number of facts that influence the situation. Tuscon is a fast-growing city, which faces a considerable number of problems. The projects are often established, without taking enough time for the consideration of all advantages and disadvantages. The community does not always have time and the opportunity to tell its wishes so that the authorities are not always informed. The companies (mostly large market players with monopolistic ambitions) which implement the projects such as this one mostly focus on financial and infrastructural benefits but not citizens demands or environment safety. Therefore, the conflict of interests arises between the community and ACA. These two sides are actively presented by local environmental groups and Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads respectively. The similar case is with Buzz World PR directors official position in his communication with media reporter. Although his personal views may differ, he has to demonstrate the formal point of view.

The conflict includes the claimants:

The PR director, the main character;

Buzz World, representing the clients interests;

ACA,backing and funding the project;

Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads, promoting roads building in the city;

Local environmental groups, the opposition which is likely to press for the projects decline;

The reporter, whose professional interest leads him to learn the objective truth;

The community that has a right to express the opinion and to support with voting the project, in effectiveness and demand of which they are convinced;

The local authorities, the part that may have influence on the situation.

All the claimants may be associated with the next bulleted list duties:

Fidelity: the key question concerns the PR directors professionalism and correct presentation of the clients interests, while another one is about reporters efforts in establishing the projects roots;

Gratitude: every party may feel gratitude taking into account the course of actions. If people vote for the Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads, ACA management will be grateful to the PR director and the company he represents as well as Buzz World will be thankful. If the reporter learns anything the environmental defenders may use for the project blocking, they will feel gratitude to the media community (the reporter). Citizens will feel thankfulness in case the activists preserve the city from damaging the environment, on the other hand, while on the other hand, they will be grateful for new roads built by ACA. Probably, local authorities will feel relief if the situation will be resolved with mutual advantages for parties and without wide-ranging conflicts appearance;

Justice requires showing the whole and truthful arrangement of the participants positions. ACA will have to recognize its connection with the voting project, what is not desirable for the company. However, it may cancel the dilemma between the main character and the journalist. Justice for environmental groups means an investigation of all benefits of building better roads for the city, while not showing only its negative sides;

Beneficence: without any doubt, the project that ACA is promoting can provide a significant gain for the company. The PR director may experience career development after the successful presentation of Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads, and it may serve as a positive advertisement for Buzz Worldtoo. The beneficence for community and environmental defenders is measured by the level of new infrastructure in the city and the minimum environment damaging and pollution;

Self-improvement: the ACsproject will obviously experience it in case it is successful from the beginning (promotion) until the end (implementation). Talking about the PR director and Buzz World, it has been already mentioned that the professional development will be experienced by them. The reporter has a chance of career improvement, but he has to perform a significant and extended investigation of the situation to reach it. The advance for group of activists is in their authority statement in the fortunate case for them;

Non-injury: the PR director has no moral right to violate the clients will. Buzz World cannot allow its strong reputation loss. For ACA, this parameter may be evaluated as the investment non-injury. For the environment, it means preserving the natural resources as vigorously as possible. For the community, non-injury may indicate the consideration of their interest in the case.

According to the concept, some alternative ways may be regarded:

The first variant is ACAs declaration of project funding and the proof of its benefit for the city and the community. This version can also help the PR agency and the main character in the way of coming up trumps for the successful project voting;

The second alternative is the reporters and environmental defenders cooperation. It can happen if the journalist reveals the background of the issue, which activists will use for persuading the citizens not to vote for Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads implementation;

The third possible course of action is authorities interference. If they take a more active position, they will have more significant influence on Tuscon habitants opinion regarding the voting.

There are favored options for the claimants:

The first option seems to be acceptable for the PR director and Buzz World. Moreover, it may be a favored option for ACA if the company changes the attitude to the implementation of the project. However, it is not likely to happen due to projects aggressive background;

The second way is, undoubtedly, the best one for the media community, citizens, and environmental activists. It is their choice and victory;

The third alternative will become the positive option taking into consideration the voting results.

The best scenario from all the optional ways will probably be the first one. This scenario is the most open for public and all the parties interested. In this case, Buzz Worlds PR campaign will be grounded on the public information, and it will increase the level of trust in the ACA and the project. Every citizen will be able to make his/her choice knowing the full information from ACA and local environmental groups. Therefore, the picture will be objective in this context. On the contrary, the worst event scenario may occur if the media and activists block the objective voting by persuading people in ACAs aggressive intentions. The companys silence can be understood as lies in the situation. Thus, the variant of authorities interference is a balanced one in the case. Its target is the wide-scale conflict between the parties involved.

The harm that can be caused by the alternative ways of the events flow may influence all the parties in different ways. Undoubtedly, for ACA, it is a financial waste. With regard to Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads, it is an ideological failure. Talking about Buzz World and their main character, the reputational loss may be caused if they are caught while presenting the interests of the dishonest client and providing the devious campaign. The reporter may experience even fear if a big company tries to suspend his investigation. The harm for the community may be the most continuous if people are urged to the wrong decision concerning their city infrastructure, better roads building, and environment preservation. For the authorities, it has been already mentioned that the uncovered conflict will be the most negative scenario.

If talking about the claims, rules, or principles that may invalidate the goal of the whole issue, there are next possible variants:

ACAs claim (the first option) can solve the existing dilemma but not the whole situation;

Without any doubt, the second choice will evidently invalidate the Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads plan in case it occurs. Thus, the citizens will become persuaded in aggressive intentions promoted by ACA.

In the next five paragraphs, the alternative courses of action will be regarded from the position of such ethical theories as Mills harm principle, Mills utilitarianism, Machiavellian ethical egoism, Aristotles golden mean, and Virtue ethics.

1) According to Mills harm principle, the task is to search for good things overweighed by the loss caused. Thus, there are two opposite scenarios with positive factors, and each of them can cause different effects. On the one hand, aggressive road building will damage the environment. On the other hand, environment preservation will leave the citizens without new roads built. Apparently, both are appropriate for the fast-developing city. Probably, Mills harm principle will be realized in the condition of the first (truthful) or the third (authorities) alternative realization;

2) Mills utilitarianism theory can provide the information about the greatest advantage for the greatest number of people. Tuscon and its inhabitants constitute the largest party among those involved in the case. The decision which will be the best for them is the maximal openness of the ACA project. Thus, only if the city gets the opportunity to transparently weigh pros and cons, the numerous audience will receive the satisfaction of its interests in the form of new roads built and ultimate nature preservation;

3) Machiavellian ethical egoism helps to diversify the persons or groups benefit about the case. It is important for the PR director to feel confidence in his official position while presenting the Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads campaign. He has to know the positions of both parties (ACAand environment defenders with the reporter) and build his line of performance respectively. The activists have to conduct their measures due to the ethical norms and for the nature preservation, without damaging the society interests at the same time;

4) Aristotles doctrine of golden mean is closely associated with its original sense by the third alternative course of action. The authorities may play a judging role in the situation and let both parties defend their positions, while giving people the possibility to vote without strong pressure from any of the sides. However, the PR director presenting ACAs interests and other parties have to try their best to reach the golden means standards. These norms sometimes demand abandonment of personal advantages;

5) Virtue ethics is obviously experienced by two main conflict parties of the case. However, the PR director may also feel it in the mission of the best campaign scenario creation for the customer. Talking about the reporter, he similarly has the goal of the public revelation of the controversial project.

The next challenge is to define whether absolutist ethical theories support or reject the alternative ways of the questions conduct.

Immanuel Kants categorical imperative has to answer the question whether the ethical dilemma leads to making the decision a rule of policy and whether it pretends to be followed by the adherents. There is no doubt that the first optional scenario will lead to the creation of the canon of policy if a large company shows the example of an open for society and honest project to other possible market players in different spheres and their lesser followers. The same may be associated with the PR campaign. The straighter it is, the more attractive it becomes for the future cases to be considered as a rule by PR agencies.

John Rawls veil of ignorance provides the depiction of the situations idealistic vision using the experiment tool. It can be visualized that the project aimed at building new roads has a paragraph about its impact on the ecology of the city. It may contain the statements about the specific routes chosen for avoiding deforestation to the maximal possible scale or about the creation of park zones in the vicinity of the new roads. It is an idealistic vision, but it can be realized. The target of such inclusions is the transformation of ACAs aggressive concept into the eco-friendly one. Thus, ACAs and environment defending organizations union will be the most appropriate variant in this context.

With regard to everything stated above, there is the demand for making conclusions and determining the course of action. It is obvious that the PR director experiences a controversial situation. On the one hand, there is the customer with the strict requirements; on the other hand, there are reporters community and nature preservers who will obviously try to interfere in the course of Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads campaign. The alternative versions offered have the solutions for this case; however, in the realities of the modern world, fast growth of the economy and infrastructure of the city, they are not likely to occur. Therefore, all the participants in the situation will probably follow their individual code of conduct. Thus, the dilemma of PR directors correct presentation of the customers project remains the key issue.

The Letter

(written by the leading character, addressed to the local environmental group)

Tuscon is a fast-growing modern city which is the second in the state by its population. It is evident that it needs infrastructure development to meet the present challenges and for the further extension. The new roads building is one of the principal questions to be realized. The Tuscon Citizens for Building Better Roads campaign is aimed at presenting to the community the most convenient and objective plan of the driveways network that has to be built. Support of this project will provide far more benefits than it may seem at first sight. The environment preservation is a significant component of the Tuscons life, but it has no right to interfere in the citys growth. Despite that, the efforts have to be united. If every party takes care of its sphere questions and efficiently performs the work, the community, nature, and the city in general will get a better result than from confrontation. Therefore, it is extremely important to support the project and make a right choice for the future of Tuscon and its natural and created by people environment.