Monday, September 26, 2016

A Conflict of Interest with MorningStar Farms

Hannah Kusper

Conflict of Interest in PR Careers

Conflicts of interest arise not only in careers in mass media, but in public relations professions as well. Each day, public relations practitioners are prompted with hundreds of decisions to make, some that may even go against their own personal or professional beliefs. Public relations professionals must decide whether these tough ethical decisions are important enough to lose clients, sales and trust over.

The best way to avoid these situations is to build trust with clients and avoid real, potential or perceived conflicts. A public relations professional should first act in the best interest of the client or employer. If the conflict of interest is something the client or employer should know about, it must be disclosed. To build trust, public relation practitioners must be transparent and honest with their clients.

MorningStar Farms Marketing

One conflict of interest that I experienced was during a group project for MorningStar Farms. MorningStar Farms markets its brand as eco-friendly and uses the tagline “just what the world ordered.” As a company that provides vegan and vegetarian options, one would think the company’s tagline would be referring to acting sustainable. As an avid recycler, I immediately thought it was awesome that Morning Star Farms stood for the saving the environment and reducing plastic in the oceans.
Conflicting Messaging
However, when I read the fine print on one of its packages, the plastic pouch stated it was “not recyclable.” As a team member working on a research study for the company, I found consumers were furious over their new, non-recyclable packaging. They took their frustration directly to the MorningStar Farm's Facebook page. I was even conflicted with the confusion of their message. How could a brand promote saving the environment when their new packaging cannot even be recycled?

Brands have to know who they are targeting and how little details can affect their audience. Many consumers who enjoy MorningStar Farm's vegan and vegetarian options choose that lifestyle to better the environment. If these consumers find out they can't benefit the environment by engaging in recycling, it could cause bigger problems for the brand. 

Personal Conflict of Interest
This created a personal conflict of interest for me, as I respected the brand for being eco-conscious when in actuality; it added to the endless piles of landfill garbage. It also created a conflict of interest for the brand’s message. If I were a public relations professional instead of a student working on a research report, I would notify the company immediately about this problem.

I would not necessarily notify them if it was only a personal issue, but this is a bigger branding consistency issue that consumers are angry about. It is important for public relations professionals to bring up conflicts of interest that may be causing a decline in sales or even trust in the brand. 

The Solution
Bringing up personal conflicts of interest may show companies what other consumers are struggling with when it comes to how the brand portrays itself. Above all, trust and honesty builds relationships with clients, not just ROI or sales. As future public relations and journalists, we must be transparent with our clients to ensure no major conflicts of interest arise. 

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