Friday, November 9, 2007

A breach of ethics?

While listening to a recent episode "For Immediate Release" this morning, I was disappointed to hear about a recent catfight between two PR agencies, BlinnPR and 5WPR.

Shel Holtz goes into greater depth about this spat in a recent post on his blog, so I will only give the highlights here. I welcome your comments on this matter.

The debacle began with a blog post by Chris Anderson, the executive editor of Wired magazine. Anderson was upset with the barrage of e-mail pitches he receives from PR people and, as a result, blocked more than 300 people from sending him anymore e-mail. Furthermore, he actually posted each one of these blocked e-mail addresses on his blog. A quick scan of some of the e-mail addresses show that many of these are from notable companies and PR firms (Wal-Mart, Edelman, etc.). What's worse is that The New York Times actually wrote about this in an article this past Monday.

I wish I could say the mess ends here, but it gets worse. Upon seeing that his firm was not on the list of blocked e-mails Steve Blinn, president of BlinnPR, began bragging about this fact in e-mails to employees and clients of another PR firm, 5WPR. Instead of being big boys and just letting the matter die, the CEO and executive vice president of 5WPR decided they would go on the offensive against BlinnPR, and they were not nice about it. A post at Silicon Valley Insider lists a number of e-mails from 5WPR in which they made threats of stealing employees and clients from BlinnPR. Adam Handelsman, 5WPR executive VP, actually even stooped to the level of name-calling by calling Steve Blinn a moron. Here's just a taste of some of the wording in these petulant e-mails:

Handelsman to Blinn

I am going to hire someone to stand outside your office... 5k commission on new business to your staff, plus a 20% raise just to leave with your clients.You made my night. And yes, I am forwarding to all of your clients your note that you don't work late or hard... thanks... I do.

This is disheartening to see this kind of behavior from so-called PR professionals. What makes it worse is that the perpertrators were leaders of their respective companies.

Shel Holtz is advocating that the Public Relations Society of America, International Assoication of Business Communicators and/or Council of Public Relations Firms come out and publicly censure these two firms for the way they have acted. While I doubt any of these organizations will actually censure them, I do believe that something should be done because these two firms are demeaning the practice of public relations. Holtz cites violations of each organizations' code of ethics by BlinnPR and 5WPR. The argument could be made, however, that these two firms have no affliation with IABC, PRSA or CPRF. That would be unfortunate.

As a member of PRSA I have agreed to abide by the organization's Code of Ethics. Part of my responsibility as a member of PRSA is to enhance public relations by working "constantly to strengthen the public's trust in the profession." Furthermore, I have acknowledged that "there is an obligation [on my part] to protect and enhance the profession."

With this in mind and recognizing the fact that my job is not to be a PR ethics policeman, what can I do when stuff like the above happens? Do I just sit idly by and let this kind of stuff keep happening or can I take action? I'm not sure what I can do, but I do know that people notice when PR messes up and are quick to call us on it. For further proof of this, look at what one individual had to say about the embarassing fight between the two aforementioned firms (note: language has been cleaned up):

Ah, this is nice to see. I always thought that PR was a bull[***] industry run by idiots who generally do more harm than good for your company.... and now I see that this is the case.

Thanks for the insightful emails… always good to see the shards exposed for the jack[***] they are.

Like Lawywers and Venture Capitalsits, these are parasites on the creative and productive.... and their desperation makes it clear that they know it!
(source: Silicon Valley Insider)


Anonymous said...

I think it's hard as a young PR person to stand by and watch as older, experienced professionals confirm the negative stereotype that our industry sometimes has. But I think that the only thing we really can do as individuals is simply maintain our own personal good reputations. It would be impossible to change the entire profession without first maintaining our own conduct. I think we need to continually reinforce ethical conduct in the profession, by making it a priority in education and training. I feel like this is the only way to change the image of the industry, by actually maintaining an honest one.

Unknown said...

I am not sure I think we don't have responsibilities... it's too easy to say "it's not our job to police others." But when others' childishness or lack of ethics (or refusal to understand the medium and audience, in the case of those who pitched Anderson) impacts the perception of our entire profession, it impacts how effective we can each be at our own jobs.

I think we all have a responsibility to encourage action from the major professional organizations. I don't think organizations that refuse to enforce ethics provisions are behaving responsibly or ethically. (That's not a slap specifically at PRSA; I am disappointed that none of the big ones have reacted, as far as I can see.) And I think we all have a responsibility -- as Shel and you have done, for example -- to publicly reject unethical PR tactics when we see them.