Ethics & the PR practitioner – or Marketing Virtuously, Redux

25 01 2009

As I’m sure many of you do, I subscribe to a myriad of other professionals’ media – blogs, twitter, RSS, etc. Today Robert French, public relations professor at Auburn,  posted a blog reinforcing a major ideology behind the practice of Virtue IMC – ethics of public relations practitioners.

Here is a link to his blog – and my response. I have a hard time digesting it when PR “practitioners” choose to not abide by the PRSA Code of Ethics.

It also plays into why I’ve developed my PR practice as I have. Virtue is not just a kitschy play on my name – it’s a credo in how my firm conducts business on behalf of its clients. I have prospective clients that call and ask if I am a publicist – to which I respond that I am not. My job is not that of an agent – getting you seen on a red carpet, bailing you out of jail, making sure you are dressed with all the proper garments before you go out, none of this is my job; providing you visibility & credibility to YOUR publics is. I am happy to be your public “relationship” representative, providing your publics with the information that you want to share.

Virtue IMC practices marketing communications in the best interest of its clients. I’ve sat with prospects that tell me what communication practices they want – without considering what is in their own best interest. Their college-age child told them getting a MySpace/FaceBook profile or some other Social Media will make them millionaires – it might if you are catering to the “MySpace” demographic & their product or service fits that medium. Having a TV commercial means the phone ringing off the hook – make sure you put a TV spot on NBC during 30 Rock. Well last time I checked, TV advertising can be cost/labor-intensive and I tend to use my DVR to record things so I can bypass those pesky interruptions. So why would I make a recommendation to a client that is NOT in their best interest.

That’s just it – I WOULDN’T… it’s the pride I take in my practice that translates into having the tough conversations with clients to deter a costly (whether financially or reputation) mistake. Ultimately, the client is in charge. But without a realistic impression of what a potential strategy could cost a client, how can they make informed decisions?

Sometimes, that means walking away from a situation or making a choice to not engage with a prospect. It’s a tough spot, but ultimately its a decision that is in the best interests of all involved. As French suggested, why engage with a client that has already dug themselves in so deep that it’s tough to see daylight? Please understand, there is a difference between crisis communications and reputation spin doctor. I can’t turn an onion into an apple – so why try to turn a situation into an “opportunity”?

In the case of Blago (the conversation on French’s blog that birthed this post), the Govenor is in boiling water over his head and drowning with each additional “tactic” he takes. Why is his representation trying to paint him as anything other than a guy who did something wrong? Like French said – stop discussing it. At least admit that you did wrong. Heck, even apologize if it’s sincere. But people’s BS sensors are working and they can smell it when it’s served.

My tactic in that type of situation is to face the bad head on. Address it honestly, sincerely apologize and tell your publics what you are going to do to make a positive change. Oh yes, and do what you say you are going to do. Weight Watchers has a saying “If you bite it, you must write it” to hold its members accountable. I’d like to spin-off that: “If you say, you must play it” – meaning what ever you say to your publics, you’d better be prepared to put it into action. Your publics will hold you accountable for it; if you don’t deliver on it, you will lose them for good.

Marketing Virtuously,





One response

26 01 2009
Robert French

It is stories like these that give me such sadness. First, the publicists that bring this bad rep to all of us are so numerous as to be almost accepted reality by so many practitioners. The articles and statements calling them out have mostly gone away as it seems a worthless task. Anyone can hang out a shingle & pretend to be a dutiful practitioner, while really being just another DIY with a computer, telephone & internet connection.

The real sadness is that I know the students we’re working with today will have to walk into this environment and deal with the misperceptions. It is strangely a frustration I think about – perhaps all too often. The students deserve better.

I’m glad you address these issues and practice in a way to avoid them. Wish more people did, too. Thanks for the post.

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