PR hits back at press criticism

Media relations Trade bodies act to defend industry's ethical reputation in wake of negative stories.

The PR industry is attempting to become a more combative force in the national media as the industry comes under increasingly intense scrutiny over ethical issues.

The PRCA and the CIPR have both stepped up their engagement with the national press in the past months, as the media spotlight has continued to shine on standards of practice in the UK PR sector since The Independent's sting operation on Bell Pottinger last December.

The Independent this week continued its critical coverage of the industry, by highlighting Ruder Finn winning work with the Maldives government, despite claims President Mohamed Nasheed was removed from office by force in a coup d'etat in February.

Following public attacks from pro-democracy group Friends of Maldives, Eva Abdulla, a member of former President Nasheed's Maldivian Democratic Party, has now written a letter to Ruder Finn - a letter that has also been sent to the agency's client list.

In it she stated that the agency 'practices a deeply unethical form of PR', adding that if it continued to work for the Maldives, the agency 'would be party to one of the greatest injustices ever inflicted on the people of the Maldives'.

Elsewhere, Burson-Marsteller has been criticised for representing Ukraine's Party of Regions and arranging interviews for government official Renat Kuzmin in London and Europe, amid condemnation of the country's treatment of jailed former prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

CIPR director of comms Phil Morgan explained he has stepped up a letter-writing campaign to the nationals to counter what it sees as an increase in misleading stories following the Bell Pottinger sting.

'The recent coverage has highlighted a lack of understanding about the true nature of PR in the media and the nature of lobbying,' he said.

Meanwhile, the PRCA has stepped up its own interaction with the press, and has been holding lunches with national editors in the past month. This follows its appointment of ex-national newspaper journalist Katherine Barney to the role of director of comms and policy.

PRCA chief executive Francis Ingham said: 'I want to say to them if you've got a story about PR you can come to us for commentary - we will always give you an answer. Not all PROs are the same, and we want to emphasise the difference between those who are regulated and those who are not.'

James Gurling, Director, Hanover Communications

For those of us following best practice there's not much to worry about but there's probably a higher degree of caution in the industry. A new business opportunity could be a journalist phoning up pretending to be someone they're not, so an agency might follow a bit more of a formulaic line. Sometimes clients might think you're less interested in working for them than you are.

Scott Wilson, CEO, Cohn & Wolfe

It's not had much impact on me and my business at all, because of the type of clients we handle. Consumer marcoms clients these days are more about the rise of digital, word of mouth and direct to consumer, so we swim in different channels.

£7.5bn - The amount the PR industry contributes to the UK economy*

3 - Meetings held by the PRCA with national editors in the past month**

£93k - Believed monthly value of Ruder Finn's tourism brief with the Maldives***

7 - Years former Ukrainian PM Yulia Tymoshenko was jailed for****

Source: *The 2011 PRWeek/PRCA Census; **PRCA CEO Francis Ingham; ***PRWeek, 27 April; **** The Guardian.

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