WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND: Shandwick's New Zealand outpost has found itself at the center of a dispute about unethical activities conducted on behalf of client Timberlands, one of the country's largest logging concerns.
In Secrets and Lies: The Anatomy of an Anti-Environmental PR Campaign, authors Nicky Hager and Bob Burton blame Shandwick for conducting a campaign which blurred the role between PR firm and political activist. The controversy has sparked widespread media interest.
?When a firm tries to stop groups from having their say or spreads misinformation, the term 'public relations' becomes meaningless,? said Hager. He added that the agency ?showed no respect for freedom of speech,? going out of its way to publically discredit its critics.
The controversy surrounds logging practices on the west coast of New Zealand. According to Timberlands, environmentalists are attempting to renege on a contract signed in 1986 to designate part of the west coast for forestry.
The authors take Shandwick to task for what they claim to be underhanded tactics. One major complaint involves Shandwick consultant Rob McGregor, who drafted a letter to newspapers and conservation minister Nick Smith opposing a logging proposal. However, he scripted the letter knowing it would be signed by (and thus attributed to) others.
In a faxed cover note to Timberlands, McGregor wrote, ?Thank you for arranging for the action group to dispatch the letters in the name of their organization. Better this salvo comes from them than from Timberland.?
Klaus Sorensen, chief executive of Shandwick/New Zealand, downplayed the book's allegations. ?We did nothing more than assist (Timberlands) in better informing the New Zealand public about its activities,? he said.
Sorensen also accused his accusers of acting unethically and illegally.
?Some of the material used was stolen from our offices,? he said. ?It certainly brings into question the motives and integrity of those publishing the book.?