LEADER: Should agencies act on ethical pressure?

It's tough to be beaten at your own game, so I have sympathy with the frustration of Margot Raggett, CEO of Lexis, one of the three agencies ambushed by Greenpeace protesters dressed as orangutans.

Claire Murphy, Deputy Editor
Claire Murphy, Deputy Editor

Every account executive knows that a great picture is a powerful weapon in the media armoury, and there are probably more feathered costumes of brand 'characters' sitting in the cupboards of PR agencies than in costume shops.

Protesters have used the tactic for years; monkeys lolling on the steps of Unilever House and the firm's Port Sunlight factory are, while headline-grabbing, nothing new. Yet sending them into the receptions of PR agencies is a whole new front in NGOs' battle to put pressure on companies. Raggett believes it was a pointless exercise because people will be talking about Greenpeace's tactics rather than its message: the production of palm oil.

But Greenpeace's motivation was to put highly visible pressure on the agencies to show them that their ethical accountability is real and will be publicly judged. It's difficult to think how else this could have been achieved. And part of Raggett's frustration is doubtless rooted in the fact that demonstrating a solid set of ethics is the most important element in attracting the best talent.

Is it realistic for NGOs to expect PR agencies to put pressure on their clients to alter business practices? This is already part of the brief for an agency with a strategic remit: pointing out issues that will result in a loss of corporate reputation. But Lexis, Ogilvy and JCPR were all focused on consumer work on the Dove brand.

In a sense, however, the discussion over Greenpeace's stunt style and whether its demands on PR agencies are reasonable is already redundant. Other NGOs will be already researching agency/client relationships. The only useful question is: how should agencies respond? It's an issue to which we'll be returning.

Email: claire.murphy@haynet.com  

Danny Rogers is away.

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