Fleishman's situation in LA is a problem that the entire PR industry will need to overcome

The audit by the Los Angeles City controller's office, which last week reported that it had found an alleged $4.2 million in overbillings by Fleishman-Hillard, should elicit no feelings of schadenfreude among the firm's competitors.

The audit by the Los Angeles City controller's office, which last week reported that it had found an alleged $4.2 million in overbillings by Fleishman-Hillard, should elicit no feelings of schadenfreude among the firm's competitors.

Fleishman is indisputably a great agency, with a rich vein of senior talent and experience and a long tradition of industry leadership. It has, for whatever reason, found itself in a situation from which no firm is necessarily immune.

The political climate in LA is highly charged, with Laura Chick's rhetoric at the press conference designed to grab headlines and convict Fleishman in the eyes of the public.

Fleishman, which is conducting its own investigation, has issued a point-by-point response to the audit refuting the majority of the accusations. But a detailed explanation of the firm's steps were not forthcoming as of press time. As the story has evolved, the focus has changed.

According to Richard Kline, regional president, senior partner, and Fleishman's key spokesman on the issue, the firm has "moved our internal efforts to focus on serving the needs of the US Attorney and District Attorney investigators. Our investigation has moved into working with theirs and we are cooperating fully."

The problem with that - and it is not one that anyone could easily navigate - is that a public announcement of an investigation creates an impression that the findings of an investigation will be forthcoming. Fleishman's public statements, too, are understandably cautious and non-committal.

But beyond the rhetoric of cooperation that the agency has offered, this industry, the one that is the proponent of transparency and good corporate citizenship, is waiting to hear what one of its leading voices is going to do about moving this issue along. We realize the legal risks of this very public issue are enormously significant. But as a role model to much of the industry, Fleishman's actions in the future will have implications for everyone.

PRWeek diversity panel aims to prompt change
For this year's feature article that will run with the Survey on Diversity, we are convening a panel of thought leaders to discuss the reasons why so many believe that the PR industry is failing to make meaningful strides in diversity recruiting. A report of that discussion will run with the results of the survey in the December 13 issue.

Diversity recruiting is a topic that arises in every market across the US, as we have seen through our regional roundtable series. Some greet the discussion with discomfort, while others exude a passion for the subject that pushes the participants to consider carefully the balance of diversity in their own organizations.

What is clear is that most individuals are unhappy with the cultural and racial makeup of their teams, both on the corporate and agency sides. With this panel, we aim to scratch beneath the surface of the typical rhetoric that usually helps create distance from this issue, rather than offering real solutions or insight into the problem.

To take the Survey on Diversity, log on to www.cyberpulse.com/diversity. The survey is sponsored by Hill & Knowlton.

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