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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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Despite the law and federal regulating body, the licensing is difficult to enforce with the expanding and globalizing field of public relations (Molleda & Athaydes, 2003). While licensing could define public relations, creating a more unified and ethical profession, licensing in Brazil has not proven to define public relations. In fact, interview results show that the licensing is fragmenting the definition of public relations. Individuals work in event planning, media relations, strategic planning or marketing, but not “public relations.” According to a study by Molleda & Athaydes, Brazilian public relations professionals favor integrating professionals from different communication areas. While some professionals seek to integrate public relations with other areas of communication, others express the need to define public relations as a specific discipline. Integrating public relations could threaten the profession, allowing it to be smothered by marketing and advertising. However, with the current licensing requirements, public relations is disintegrating and fragmenting into other communication areas that don’t require a governmental license.

According to Wright, even a vague or broad code of ethics as some have suggested could be irrelevant or too ambiguous to follow. Instead of a universal ethics code, he presented the idea of altruism and virtue ethics as the motivating principle for ethics. Although a voluntary code could not be enforced, altruism could guide professionals’ ethical behavior. Through developing the individual practitioner and acting based on virtue ethics, he explained how with or without a standard professional code, individual practitioners choose to act ethically for their own satisfaction. This could be viewed as egoism as they please themselves and seek the respect of others, but could also be purely altruistic in wanting to do “good” for goodness sake. On the voluntary nature of codes, Wright said, “Most public relations practitioners are ethical because they want to be, not because they have to be (Wright, 1993, p. 18).” The battle for an international code of ethics must be preceded by an understanding of the practice of public relation and ethical implications in each country before entering a global contract.

Coombs and Holladay argue for a solution arising from individual commitment to ethics as opposed

to an official code:

There is no magical code of conduct that will solve all ethical concerns experienced by public relations professionals. Anyone who offers the one-size-fits-all ethical solution is viewing the context of public relations too simplistically. From the postmodern perspective, ethics should stem from individual—or situational—decision-making by a moral individual rather than be guided by normative decision-making imposed by society. Normative decision-making reflects the belief system of those in power, benefits the privileged and reinforces that status quo. (p. 48)

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ethics, practitioners are not aware or follow the code. The solution to a more ethical practice in Brazil may not lie in a universal code of ethics. Before creating a universal code spanning all nations and cultures, public relations professionals in Brazil must create a culture of ethics. The answer is not found in a strict set of rules, but virtue or agent-based ethics (Harrison & Galoway, 2005).

While action-based ethics such as a strict code do little to create ethical behavior, agent-based ethics focused on the character and motivations of individuals. Nassar’s triangle of ethics provides an agent-based idea to ethics that can be applied to the practice in Brazil. The triangle helps practitioners act with competence, legality and legitimacy. Public relations professionals need to use a quality technique, act within local and global laws and receive approval by all those affected by their actions. If practitioners follow these ethical guidelines, licensing and the idle code will not be necessary. By eliminating the infringing licensing, practitioners will freely work in the field with more virtuous motives. Action-based codes of ethics are more about an appearance and image of ethics, without actual ethical behavior created by an internally motivated character. In order to validate the findings in this study and provide more quantitative data on the understanding and effects of licensing on ethics in Brazil, a survey should be conducted. A follow-up survey will confirm or disprove the findings of the qualitative information gleaned from in-depth interviews. As a relatively untouched area of research, the licensing in Brazil allows for further study in order to create more ethical practitioners in Brazil and on a global level.

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Baker, S. (2008). The Model of The Principled Advocate and The Pathological Partisan: A Virtue Ethics Construct of Opposing Archetypes of Public Relations and Advertising Practitioners.

Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 23, 235-253.

Beekun, R.I., Stedham, Y. and Yamamura, J.H. (2003). Business Ethics in Brazil and the U.S.: A Comparative Investigation. Journal of Business Ethics, 42 (3), 267.

Bowen, S. A. (2008). A State of Neglect: Public Relations as ‘Corporate Conscience’ or Ethics Counsel. Journal of Public Relations Research, 20, 271-296.

Coombs, W. T. and Holladay, S.J. Ethical Implications of Public Relations. It’s Not Just PR:

public relations in society. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

El-Astal, M. A. S. (2005). Culture influence on educational public relations officers’ ethical judgments: A cross-national study. Public Relations Review, 31, 362-375.

Ferrari, M.A. (2009). Chapter 33: Overview of Public Relations in South America, 704-726.

The Global Public Relations Handbook: Theory, Research and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Fitzpatrick, K.R. (2002). Evolving Standards in Public Relations; A Historical Examination of PRSA’s Codes of Ethics. Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 17 (2), 89-110.

Furlanetto, M. ABERJE (Interview, Jan. 5, 2010).

Harrison, K. and Galoway, C. (2005). Public Relations Ethics: A simpler (but not simplistic) approach to its complexities. Prism 3, 1-17. Available at http://praxis.massey.ac.nz.

Hunt, T. & Tirpok, A. Universal Ethics Code: An Idea Whose Time Has Come. Public Relations Review 19(1), 1-11.

Kruckeberg, D. (1989). The Need for an International Code of Ethics. Public Relations Review, 15(2), 6-18.

Mele, D., Debeljuh, P. and Arruda, M.C. (2006). Corporate Ethical Policies in Large Corporations in Argentina, Brazil and Spain. Journal of Business Ethics, 63, 21-38.

Molleda, J.C. & Athaydes, A. (2003). Public relations licensing in Brazil: evolution and the views of professionals. Public Relations Review, 29, 271-279.

Molleda, J.C. and Ferguson, M.A. (2004). Public Relations Roles in Brazil: Hierarchy Eclipses Gender Differences.

Molleda, J.C., Athaydes, A. & Hirsch, V. (2009). The Global Public Relations Handbook, Theory, Research and Practice. Routledge Taylor and Francis: New York.

Nassar, P. ABERJE (Interview, Jan. 5, 2010).

Nassar, P., Furlanetto, M., Figueiredo & Figueiredo, S. (2008). The Trajectory of Organizational Communication in Brazil.

Roth, N.L., Hunt, T., Stravrpoulos, M., & Babik, K. (1996). Can’t We All Just Get Along:

Cultural Variables in Codes of Ethics. Public Relations Review, 22(2), 151-161.

Smeltzer, L. & Jennings, M. (1998). Why An International Code of Business Ethics would be Good for Business. Journal of Business Ethics, 17 (1), 57-66.

Sriramesh, K. & Vercic, D. (2009). The Global Public Relations Handbook Theory, Research and Practice. New York, NY: Routledge Taylor and Francis.

Taylor, M. & Kent, M.L. (1999). Challenging Assumptions of International Public Relations:

When Government Is the Most Important Public. Public Relations Review, 25(2), 131-144.

Wright, D.K. (1993). Enforcement Dilemma: Voluntary Nature of Public Relations Codes.

Public Relations Review, 19(1), 13-20.


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We match data on the daily newspaper coverage of a sample of Italian listed companies with Nielsen data on the monthly amount of advertising that a given company has purchased on a given newspaper. Controlling for newspaper and company fixed effects, we show that newspaper coverage of a given company is positively related with the amount of ads purchased on that newspaper by that company. We also find that coverage of a company is higher the day after a press release, but especially so on newspapers where more ads are purchased. This result on press releases is robust to controlling for ownership links between newspapers and companies, and –more generally- controlling for time invariant features of each companynewspaper pair, i.e. for (company × newspaper) fixed effects.

Moreover, coverage is correlated with past day absolute return and trading volume, and this relationship appears to be steeper for those newspapers where more ads are purchased.

JEL Classification: K1; L2; N81 Keywords: Media Bias, Advertising, Press Releases, Stock Returns, Italian Press

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The media is the primary example of a two-sided market, whereas readers and viewers are offered valuable informative or entertainment content, while advertisers are sold the attention of the former.

However, as highlighted in a recent game-theoretical model by Ellman and Germano (2009), advertisers could be interested not only in buying space on media outlets, but also in influencing what is featured in the so called “news hole”, i.e. the space where news and editorial content appear.

This is the case, since the receptiveness of consumers to ads could be negatively influenced by media content that is at odds with the products themselves being advertised. By the same token, pieces of news that appear to be “objective” are likely to have a stronger persuasive effect on consumers than proper ads, so that there is a clear incentive to disguise ads as news stories.

Ellman and Germano define this as the “regulatory view” on advertising. On the other hand, according to the “liberal view”, advertising revenue has a positive influence on the quality of information provided by the media, since it allows them to be less prone to the influence of the incumbent government (Besley and Prat 2006) and of political parties (Gentzkow et al. 2006). At the end of the day, the comparative relevance of the regulatory and the liberal view of advertising must be assessed empirically. Yet, there is little evidence on this, with two important exceptions, which are both more consistent with the regulatory view of advertising. Reuter and Zitzewitz (2006) examine the correlation between mutual fund recommendations and past advertising expenditure on three personal finance publications and on two national newspapers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. They find that, controlling for fund characteristics and other confounding factors, there is a significantly positive correlation between ads and positive mentions on the three personal finance outlets, but not on the Times and the Journal. Moreover, a recent paper by Di Tella and Franceschelli (2009) shows that there is a negative and sizeable correlation between the amount of ads purchased by the Argentinean government on national daily newspapers and the amount of front page coverage that those newspapers devote to corruption scandals involving members of the incumbent government.

In this paper we provide new evidence on the link between advertising and media content, with a specific focus on the coverage of firms. More specifically, we investigate how a sample of 13 Italian companies listed on the stock market is covered on a daily basis by 6 different newspapers during the period 2006-2007, as a function of the monthly amount of ads being purchased by each company on each newspaper. We gather data on daily media coverage by performing automatic keyword-based searches of online news archives. Controlling for time-invariant characteristics of companies and newspapers, we find that newspaper coverage of a given company is positively and significantly related with the amount of ads purchased on that newspaper by that company.

As we will more thoroughly discuss in the next section, through their public relations (PR) departments companies themselves are a primary source of information for the media and the public about anything newsworthy happening to them: information flows from the company to the media and the public take the shape of routinely issued press releases. For our sample of companies we perform automatic searches of their own archives in order to obtain the exact dates when press releases are issued. Again controlling for newspaper and company fixed effects, we find evidence that coverage of a given company is much larger the day after a press release. But it is also the case that this increase in coverage is systematically larger on newspapers where that company has purchased more ads the month before. This latter finding is statistically stronger when adding controls for the coverage of a firm by a newspaper that is (at least partially) controlled by that company. It is also robust to a more demanding empirical specification, whereas we control for timeinvariant characteristics of each company-newspaper pair, i.e. we exploit the time variation in media coverage, advertising expenditure and press release issuance.

In principle, companies enjoy sizeable degrees of freedom when choosing whether to issue a press release, and what to include into it. In fact, financial regulations typically oblige listed 334 companies to disclose price-sensitive information in a timely fashion through a press release. But this does not imply that all newsworthy information about a given company is included in its press releases.

In order to proxy for the “residual” flow of real world events about a company that is not necessarily captured by its press releases, we expand our analysis of newspaper coverage by controlling for the absolute daily return of that company on the stock market. It is also the case that a large movement in the price of a given stock is newsworthy by itself, irrespective of the presence of other newsworthy events causing it.

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