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«13TH INTERNATIONAL PUBLIC RELATIONS RESEARCH CONFERENCE “Ethical Issues for Public Relations Practice in a Multicultural World” Holiday Inn ...»

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There are several points worth highlighting here for PR practitioners. The first is the potential danger of the leader of a retailer or a publicly traded company expressing views that presumably run counter to a large portion of its customer base. Whole Foods is a brand that is associated with shoppers who are progressive or liberal, and by taking a position in favor of a market-based solution to rising healthcare costs, it was predictable that there would be a negative response. While Mackey has the right to his own views both on healthcare and free markets, it is odd and borderline irresponsible to make those views known in a venue such as The Wall Street Journal.

The second issue relates to the way that the controversy exploded and how much of the controversy was fueled by the Internet in general and by social media in particular. The wide availability of digital cameras and the ease of uploading photos to a website have reduced the barrier to entry for protesters. Similarly, the ease with which someone can log on and post a comment, join a facebook group, or forward a message means that a small incident can grow quickly.

What is interesting to note is the decision by Whole Foods to allow for negative comments to appear attached to the CEO’s Blog, as well as in the online forum hosted on the company’s main website. The question is whether this is a net positive for the company. While there is something to be said for openness and discussion, it seems risky to allow any comment without profanity to exist on a company’s website, including comments with links to external websites.

Finally, the case raises the question of whether discourse today has become so polarized that positions on topics such as healthcare become proxies for other political fights. Politically conservative and politically liberal bloggers and commenters seemed to use the Mackey editorial as a way to repeat the same arguments in ways that seem to reinforce existing positions.



Ayres, C. (2009, September 9). Whole Foods boss John Mackey becomes unlikely hero of the US right [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol /news/world/us_and_americas/article6826715.ece Balko, R. (2009, August 15). Whole foods [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.theagitator.com/2009/08/15/whole-foods-2/ Burros, M. (2007, February 28). Is Whole Foods straying from its roots? The New York Times, Retrieved from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html ?res=9A05E5DF1F3EF93BA15751C0A9619C8B63&sec=&spon=&&scp=5&sq=%2 whole%20foods%22%20burros&st=cse Cohen, Z.A. (2009, August 19). Whole Foods CEO John Mackey: Marketing genius or out-oftouch schmuck? [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/zachary-adam-cohen/whole-foods-ceo-johnmack_b_262990.html Company history (2000-2009). Retrieved November 10, 2009, from http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/company/history.php Etheridge, E. (2009, August 17). Whole Foods fight [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/08/17/whole-foods-fight/ “Fortune 500.” Retrieved April 12, 2010 from http://money.cnn.com/magazines/fortune/ fortune500/2010/snapshots/10572.html Gillespie, N. (2009, October 14). John Mackey's conscious capitalism. The Whole Foods CEO on health care reform, veganism, & his unstinting defense of free markets. [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://reason.com/blog/2009/10/14/reasontvjohn-mackeys-consciou Goldstein, K. (2009, August 8). Whole Foods backlash: Bloggers outraged over CEO's antiObamacare' column [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com /2009/08/18/the-whole-foods-health-ca_n_262471.html Groseclose, T., & Milyo, J. (2005). A Measure of media bias. The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 120(4), 1191-1237.

Harquail, C.V. (2009, August 24). The Two-faced ceo: citizen or whole foods shareholder? [Web log message]. Retrieved fro http://authenticorganizations.com/harquail/2009/08/24/thetwo-faced-ceo-citizen-or-whole-foods-shareholder/ House, K.E. (2004, January 8). A report to The Wall Street Journal's world-wide readers. The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/ SB10735209788470800.html Mackey, J. (2009, August 14). Health care reform [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www2.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/jmackey/ Mackey, J. (2009, December 24). Latest 8k filing [Web log message]. Retrieved January 12, 2009 from http://www2.wholefoodsmarket.com/blogs/jmackey

Mackey, J. (2009). Passion and purpose: The power of conscious capitalism. Boulder, CO:

Sounds True.

Mackey, J. (2009, August 11). The Whole Foods alternative to Obamacare: Eight things we can do to improve health care without adding to the deficit. The Wall Street Journal, 935 Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/ SB10001424052970204251404574342170072865070.html McLeod, J. M., & Chaffee, S. H. (1973). Interpersonal approaches to communication research.

American Behavioral Scientist, 16, 469-499.

Moore, S. (2009). The conscience of a capitalist: The Whole Foods founder talks about his journal health-care op-ed that spawned a boycott, how he deals with unions, and why he thinks CEOs are overpaid.. The Wall Street Journal, Retrieved from http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704471504574447114058870676.html Mui, Y. (2009, August 19). Whole Foods devotees lash out at CEO; customers, angry over his health-care views, share feelings of betrayal on web. The Washington Post, A.10.

Nationwide Tea Party Leaders Announce Tea Party Buycott to Support Whole Foods This Tuesday (2009, August 28). [Press Release]. The Nationwide Tea Party Coalition.

Retrieved from http://www.teacottwholefoods.com/teapartybuycott.pdf Nichtern, E. (2009, August 15). Whole Foods CEO John Mackey's utterly disappointing worldview [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ ethannichtern/whole-foods-ceo-john-mack_b_260275.html Paumgarten, N. (2010, January 4). Food fighter: Does Whole Foods’ C.E.O. know what’s best for you? The New Yorker, 23-27.

Pearson, R. (1989). Beyond ethical relativism in public relations: Coorientation, rules, and the idea of communication symmetry. Public Relations Research Annual, 1, 67-86.

Response statement: John Mackey’s Op/Ed in The Wall Street Journal (2009, August 13).

Retrieved from http://www.facebook.com/note.php?note_id=120455171970 Sperry, Paul. (2002, June 25). Myth of The Wall Street Journal. World Net Daily, Retrieved from http://www.wnd.com/index.php?pageId=14357 Tickle, C. (2009, September 9). Could the CEO be that out of touch with his consumer base?

[Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/ world/us_and_americas/article6826715.ece Values overview (n.d.). Retrieved November 10, 2009, from http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/values/ Whole Foods Boycott (2009). Retrieved April 2, 2010 http://www.facebook.com/ WholeFoodsBoycott#!/ WholeFoodsBoycott?v=info Whole Foods CEO's Health Care Views Provoke Some Customers to Boycott Store. (2009).

Retrieved December 2, 2009 from http://politics.foxnews.mobi/quickPage.html ?page=16484&content=18893126&pageNum=-1 Wyskida, B. (2009, August 14). Why I'm done with Whole Foods [Web log message]. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ben-wyskida/why-im-done-with-wholefo_b_259716.html 936 <

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1. Remove the legal obstacles which slow the creation of high deductible health insurance plans and Health Savings Accounts.

2. Change the tax laws so that that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have exactly the same tax benefits.

3. Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines.

4. Repeal all government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover.

5. Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors into paying insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year.

6. Make health care costs transparent so that consumers will understand what health care treatments cost.

7. Enact Medicare reform: we need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and move towards greater patient empowerment and responsibility.

8. Permit individuals to make voluntary tax deductible donations on their IRS tax forms to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid, SCHIP or any other government program.

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Building Ethical Customer Relations in Electronic Commerce Environment: Dialogic Communication and Making Customers’ Expectations Real

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Due to the emergence of electronic commerce, customer relations in the electronic commerce environment has become a contemporary research issue. In order to explore consumers’ expected relationship building strategies from the on-line vendors, the researcher conducted 9 structured focus group interviews with 69 (31male; 38 female) young consumers (mean age=20) in the United States in Spring 2009. The participants were asked to express their opinions about what on-line vendors can do to establish good and ethical relationships with customers. The combination of Kent and Taylor’s (2002) Dialogic Theory of Public Relations and Kazoleas and Teigen’s (2006) Technology-Image Expectancy Gap Theory of Public Relations helps to explain the findings of this study. Some participants mentioned that they expect dialogic communication with the on-line vendor through multiple channels. Some participants mentioned that making customers’ expectations about product quality and delivery time real is the key for establishing ethical relationships with customers. The results of this study extend the knowledge about customer relations in electronic commerce environment.

This project is sponsored by Wayne Thompson Fellowship, Western Illinois University.

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Due to the emergence of electronic commerce (EC), organizations can communicate with customers and sell products globally through internet channels. Thus, building customer relations in the electronic commerce environment has become a contemporary research issue.

For example, Davis, Buchanan-Oliver, and Brodie (1999) conducted a focus group study to explore relationship marketing in electronic commerce environment. They proposed a trustbased approach which defines the good retailer-customer relationships in the e-commerce environment. Based on this approach, on-line retailers need to keep the promises of their customers. “This promise is defined by the virtual image of interorganizational service brand held in the customer’s mind and created by their interaction with that brand” (Davis et al., p.

328). The findings of their focus group interviews supported this research proposition. Davis et al. found that the relationship between on-line vendors and their customers can be defined by the disconfirmations of two types of cognitive images, the expected virtual experience and actual real/service-process created experience. Higher levels of consumer satisfactions result when the actual real service experience exceeds the expected virtual experience. The high level of satisfaction can lead to the development of trust and loyalty (customer retention) to the on-line shopping service.

Davis et al.’s (1999) research has served as an initial step to explore customer relations in e-commerce environment. However, their study was conducted about 12 years ago. The ecommerce market has rapidly grown and become more competitive since their study has been conducted. The present study aims to build on Davis et al.’s study and further explore good and ethical customer relationships in the electronic commerce environment based on a public relations perspective. The following section reviews literature about ethical public relationships in mediated environment.

Literature Review Ethical Public Relations in Mediated Environment In the last two decades, the impacts of technology on public relations have attracted much scholarly attention. Kent and Taylor (1998; 2002) proposed a Dialogic Theory of Public Relations to describe ethical public relations in mediated environment. Kent and Taylor (1998) argued that dialogic communication is like the product of two-way symmetrical communication.

The nature of dialogic communication emphasizes on a process of negotiated communication between organizations and publics, and thus, it is considered as an especially ethical way of conducting public relations. Kent and Taylor proposed five principles for the successful integration of dialogic public relations and the World Wide Web. These dialogic principles include the dialogical loop, the usefulness of information, the generation of return visit (RV), the intuitiveness /ease of the interface, and the rule of conservation of visitors.

Kent and Taylor (2002) further emphasized that the practice of ethical public relations is to have two-way dialogic communication rather than one-way monological or manipulative communication and proposed five features of dialogic communication. These five features include mutuality, or the recognition of organization-public relationships; propinquity, or the temporality and spontaneity of interactions with publics; empathy, or the supportiveness and confirmation of public goals and interests; risk, or the willingness to interact with individuals and publics on their own term; and finally, commitment, or the extent to which an organization gives itself over to dialogue, interpretation, and understanding in its interactions with publics (p. 25).

939 Kent and Taylor (2002) argued that organizations can build dialogic relationships with publics through interpersonal, mediated, and organizational channels. In terms of building mediated dialogical relationships, organizations should provide e-mail addresses, web addresses, and 1telephone numbers to their publics in their corporate communication materials. Specifically, Kent and Taylor believe that the corporate Websites can function dialogically rather than monologically with publics by offering discussions, feedback loops, places to post comments, sources for organizational information, and postings of organizational members’ contact information.

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