Last week FTI Consulting was served proceedings by former client BSG Resources alleging breach of contract, conspiracy to withhold disclosure of conflict of interest and acting against BSGR's best interests (Read more).
In short: sleeping with the enemy.
The detail of this legal action makes fascinating and startling reading. And while I have no intention of commenting on the proceedings (PRWeek's legal budget isn't that big), the issue raised is of interest to us all.
Conflict is a thorny perennial for PR people and there are only two ways to deal with it: 'fess up in the first place to all concerned and be prepared to deal with the fallout, or hope that your clients don't find out. Then deal with the fallout.
Of course you can always decline to be involved in anything that smells like potential conflict, but let's face it: these decisions are more commercial than they are ethical.
Oh, there's the C-word. Commercial - it isn't a dirty word, but it's not the profession's strongest suit either.
PR agencies are great at attracting highly creative people, but frequently exhibit a lack of basic commercial skills. Why should client conflict be such a painful issue for PR people and not lawyers and management consultants, all of whom are paid to offer expert counsel?
As PRCA director general Francis Ingham points out, it's all about handling conflict smartly. 'Transparency is the new norm,'
he says. 'Either you level with your clients, or you should expect them to leave you. Everyone wrestles with conflict - your skill in doing so increasingly defines your success.'
Reading between the lines, that suggests PR professionals need to deploy their considerable negotiation skills and innate persuasiveness to their own ends as readily and effectively as they do for their clients.
Clients should be prepared to ask difficult questions and deal with uncomfortable answers. Many may insist on monogamy. Some may take a more liberal view of advisers sharing their favours.
Either way, it has to be better for everyone involved to be in possession of the full story at the outset than running the risk of some confidence-shaking, relationship-terminating secret coming to light further down the track.