The Ethical Implications of Blurred Lines – Cheryll Forsatz

Joining me on this week’s episode of EthicalVoices is Cheryll Forsatz, the Vice President of Corporate Communications and Public Relations for Ferrero USA. She’s a fellow Newhouse grad, and I’ve had the pleasure of speaking on a few panels with her over the years. She discusses a number of important ethics issues, including:

Why don’t you tell us more about yourself and your career?

I am a corporate communications and brand strategist with more than 25 years of experience working with global consumer brands. Currently, I am the Vice President of Corporate Communications and Public Relations for Ferrero, working on amazing brands such as Nutella, Tic Tac, Kinder, Keebler, and Butterfinger…as well as working in campaigns to enhance and elevate Ferrero’s corporate profile in North America. It’s known as a European brand and we’re here in the U.S. so it’s really expanding upon their corporate profile here.

Previous to Ferrero, I spent the majority of my career with McDonald’s, both on the agency side as well as in-house, working both for the corporation and representing the more than 100 franchisees in the New York area.

What is the most difficult ethical challenge you ever confronted?

I look back at my career and even now, I think what is facing our industry…it’s the blurred lines. Back in the day, way, way back, there was internal communications, there was external communications. You could give product to supporters and consumers. You could do “Surprise & Delight” and that’s where the magic happens.

Now, internal is external. You have candidates going on websites or getting materials from a company and they say X, Y, and Z. We need to make sure that we’re matching externally what we’re sharing. And sometimes what employees want to hear or potential employees want to hear is one thing, but there has to be consistency with what’s going on externally. When I was at McDonald’s, a big focus when I was on the agency side was talking about our food, nutrition, sustainability, and sourcing. But we weren’t talking about that internally.

Where the challenge happens, is both internal/external wants to be transparent and open. But how do we frame it up and how are we consistent with each other? I think one of the biggest challenges too is our department leads communications, but all departments now own it, right? If  I write website copy or I write a press release or a brochure, it’s making sure all the other departments understand it from their perspective.

It becomes a more collaborative approach. I know that people don’t like communications or development by committee. But as the lines continue to blur – I share what I want to share out externally with departments, but now they are also coming to my department and saying, “Okay, this is how we want to talk about it.” How is that aligned with how other departments are talking about? And I think that’s where we are transparent and open and consistent.

How do you recommend people effectively navigate the blurring of the lines?

Make sure we stay on top of a couple of things. Back in the day, I could give McDonald’s products, toys, cameras, whatever…to reporters, to consumers, to influencers (not the influencers the way we know them now), and the magic happened. They’d either write a review, they would share with their friends, and they talk about it. Now it’s all regulated. Right now the person on the receiving end needs to disclose. You go onto any retailer page and you start reading the reviews for whatever product and they have to disclose, “Yes, I received this as part of a…,” whatever the agreement is. So I think that as consumers get more savvy, our profession needs to stay on top of the regulation.

Communications now more than ever needs to have their legal counterpart with them because they’re your counterpart for marketing influencer regulation and media regulation. They have the case law. It just seems to me like there’s constantly cases, legal cases of influencer, celebrity, either misrepresenting or feeling they are misrepresented.

On the flip side, it could be celebrities and consumers who genuinely are fans of a product and are gushing over how great it is, but then get asked questions by other people, “Well, what about X, Y and Z?” And now the person, influencer, who we did a brand or company has not paid, they’re just genuinely interested in the products. Now we’re on the firing lines. Now the company needs to step in. And now there’s this perception of like, “Well, did you pay them?”

They’re a fan.

They’re a real fan.

People love Nutella. I mean they just rave about it.

That’s it.

It has become more regulated in those areas. I think there’s a lot less room for ethical mistakes, although enough disclosure is still an issue.

But you know what though, it’s the challenge? So, you know that whole joke about, what is the difference between PR and advertising? The whole, Advertising – I give you a dollar, Mark is a great person. PR – I do all these things so that authentically the person says, “You are a great person.”

Now there’s the hashtag ad. As the consumer, I always wonder would they have said that if they weren’t, they didn’t receive it?

Which again, is another ethical issue in and of itself, are they saying it because they got paid? What now has this word of mouth, does that even exist anymore? Or can people even do that?

Do you think people can?

I think it is evolving in ways that need to be measured and have metrics that we are not used to. How do you measure the success of word of mouth? It really comes back to sales, because I can’t give the thud factor of a clipbook or say we have a gajillion impressions or comments. How much of that really came in organically, authentically versus  what had a paid boost up against it, what influencer? But those are the metrics we have. How do I measure causality of when your kid tells their friend, go buy Nutella and my sales go up

You highlighted the importance of internal and external communications being aligned. How do you recommend people get alignment on the issues within their organization, so you’re saying the same consistent thing?

Alignment is life. Everyone’s got silos. Within matrix organizations, big organizations, even small, everyone has their task, but it needs to be elevated. The task needs to be across all departments. For example, the product launch sits with let’s say brand Y. Great. And the marketing team is working on it. PR is involved. But there are other elements that have to deal with influencers, events, and marketing to children. If the activities and plans were just kept to the marketing team and the PR team you miss the elements  how do we meet the objectives of engaging the sales team? They should be part of the development process.

It’s a new product launch, that’s exciting. Is there an opportunity to get our employees, going back to what we were just talking about earlier, to be ambassadors? It’s not just paid influencers, it is regular consumers. Our employees are also ambassadors of the brand.  

In sophisticated organizations, and I think this is where we’re going to. It’s PR people. Yes, they own communications, marketing owns the marketing – but I think everybody is needs to be part of it. Otherwise things will then get lost, opportunities are missed, and that’s where the issues can sometimes happen.

This also helps counteract bias. We all bring some biases. Realizing that not everyone is like you, how do you really engage effectively and authentically?

We were just talking about that. We all know the campaigns where it’s like everyone thought it was a great campaign, but did we show it to people who were not the creatives? Did we show it to people that didn’t just live on the coasts? Did we show it to the consumers we want to reach? We should hope that the consumers that we want to reach are reflected in the people that are working on the campaigns. Because sometimes that is not always the case.

If you look at global brands, that is another issue. I was talking to Torod Neptune and he brought up when Lenovo was doing their STEM campaign, realizing that what said in Budapest and Bangladesh to have women in STEM need to be implemented in very different ways.

Are there any other ethics issues that you really wanted to highlight?

Besides the blurring of the lines? Even with AI, I think there’s blurring of the lines. As technology evolves, as new social platforms come in, even the ones we want to be a part of or the ones that are on the fringe, we need to making sure that we continue to be aware of them and not focus just on the ones we’re comfortable with or even our clients are comfortable with or our brands are comfortable with.

I am not saying that we should be everywhere, but I think we need to keep our eyes open to what is out there. We need to make sure we are not in this echo chamber or speaking to ourselves or only speaking to a separate group or a specific group, that we are not ignoring voices that are out there.

How are you engaging with AI?

That is evolving. I think there are ways to use AI when it becomes a way to help alleviate or help with work. It used to be you needed to research a reporter, research a topic, research whatever. You’d have either someone on your team or someone in your agency do this work and spend hours upon hours researching and putting it together.

I’m seeing AI as a great way to gather information. Instead of all the hours that an AC or someone on the team would spend gathering all this information, if you could get AI to do that quickly for you, then you can have someone else spend time analyzing the data – which is the important part. What are the themes? Because I don’t think that’s where AI is yet, or at least for me, that’s not how I’m using it. It’s using it for gathering information and getting stats. But analyzing how it is relevant to your organization, to your brand or to your issue, we need to do. Depending on it too much, that’s where you can lean one way or another and miss things if you don’t take the time to review it yourself. But that is also the case with data in general.

If you’re working on a research project, you get all the data, and the data company tells you here are the top five and bottom five things.  Yes, you can take it- but I think getting into how they got there still is important, because you need to make sure that they’re not leading you one way or the other or that they miss something because they’re not your organization.

That’s great advice. Speaking of advice, what is the best piece of ethics advice you were ever given?

The best advice I received was, “Did you share this with another team?” Did you share this? Great. “What did operations say?” You’re talking about a new product, a product launches in the restaurants or something that’s going on. “Did you check with operations? Did legal see it?” Yes. Communications may own leading the process, but I think the best communications comes out of making sure that everyone has looked at it and has weighed in because they bring a different perspective. If you have a lawyer reading it, yes, they’re reading it as a lawyer, but they may also be looking at it as a mom with three kids. It’s always great to get different perspectives.

Check out the full interview, with tons of bonus content, here

Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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