Paul Frank and Native American Stereotypes

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Paul Frank and Native American Stereotypes

Unethical actions in the case study

Paul Frank Industries engaged in unethical communication that was largely perceived to be insensitive to diverse cultural believes and values. The company outstandingly featured stereotypical images of Native American peoples (Powwow pictures) in its Fashion’s Night Out 2012 presentation, leading to significant backlash from the public (Beninger & June, 2015). The stereotypical Native American artefacts used included war paint, prop tomahawks, and feather headbands. Indeed, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has instituted own codes of ethics, which require that PR officials engage in their practice with fairness. Paul Frank Industries appears to have violated this code. It also requires PR professionals to behave fairly with the public, employers, competitors, the media, and peers. The code require that PR professional involve themselves in communication that is legal, ethical as well as sensitive to other cultures and their values or beliefs.

Paul Frank Industries seems to have been culpably involved in an ethical conduct resulting from conflict of interest. In the case study, Paul Frank insensitively mocked the Native American culture for selfish gains, including gaining greater publicity and profits. She profited off of a caricature of Native American cultures. While it made business out of the mockery, it had negative psychological effects on Native American cultures and the wide society. The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) code of ethics requires that PR professionals have to avoid perceived or likely conflict of interest that destroys the public trust. The code requires that PR professionals should endeavour to build public trust by avoiding circumstances that may put professional interests in conflict with the interests of the society (PRSA, n.d.). According to Theunissen and Rahman (2012), stereotyping certain categories of people or their cultures potentially the group to internalize such negative aspects, as a result leading them to doubt their own capability to make gainful contribution to the larger society, and even make it feel that they are not appreciated by the greater society or for them to value their unique culture.


Insensitivity to Native American cultural beliefs and values

PR professionals should have counselled the organisation to practice “mindfulness” of diverse cultures while planning the media campaign, or develop awareness that there are preconceives perceptions existing regarding Native Americans that would have influenced the decisions they made while planning the media campaign. Theunissen and Rahman (2012) suggested that mindfulness is concerned with providing full attention to all the cultures, as well as what is happening in the society. By being mindful, Paul Frank Industries would have adjusted the messages to avoid stereotyping Native Americans, yet creating a campaign that is persuasive and still ethical. Mindfulness would have ensured that the company is truthful, honesty to itself, transparent and not intent not to harm any segment of the society by respective diverse traditions.

Conflicts of interest

PR professionals should also have counselled the organisation create an ethical corporate culture, where the concept of professional integrity and building positive reputation are encouraged. This would have been fostered throughout the business areas through an ethical code that declares that all members of the organisation shall deal fairly and honestly in the interest of the profession and the public, rather than personal or merely business interest (Theunissen & Rahman2012). This would have help guide the company’s management during an ethical dilemma, where it had to make profit yet rely on stereotyping of Native Americans. Ethical corporate culture would have directed the managers towards endeavouring to build public trust by avoiding circumstances that may put professional interests in conflict with the interests of the society.


Beninger, S. & June, F. (2015). Paul Frank and Native American Stereotypes: A Case of Misappropriation. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved: <>

PRSA. (n.d.). PRSA Member Code of Ethics. Retrieved: <

Theunissen, P. & Rahman, K. (2012). Making Choices in Public Relations Planning: Are we Reinforcing Stereotypes? The Asian Congress for Media and Communication Journal, 5(2), 191-206