PHILADELPHIA: A wave of ethical terrorism is sweeping the PR industry, according to Sam Waltz, 1999 PRSA chairman and CEO.
Ethical terrorism was the term used by Waltz for calling into question someone's behavior, motives or truthfulness and character rather than winning an issue on merit.
'President and Mrs Clinton used their own brand of ethical terrorism effectively against Ken Starr,' said Waltz, who was speaking at a Philadelphia PRSA meeting. 'They told everyone it's all part of a right wing conspiracy and it worked effectively. We've seen that in all environments,' he added.
He cited the case of Lieutenant Kelly Flynn, a rising star in the air force who was dismissed due to adultery. 'The Air Force was interested in the violation of its sacred ethics code,' he said. 'They positioned Flynn as someone who disobeyed an order. Flynn's counsel said the issue was one of a relationship with a married, enlisted man, and reframed the issue as one of a sexual relationship and not one of her own ethics and integrity. And she won in the court of public opinion.'
Gregg Feistman, a Philadelphia area strategic management consultant, agreed: 'Ethical terrorism has become more prevalent in the political arena,' he said. 'And it gets used whenever there's a cause, whether it's the abortion debate or anti-government movements. If the facts don't support an argument, then go after your target on a personal level. It's very difficult to combat that effectively.'
He said PR people are becoming values managers, counselors, ethicists and even company historians, and pointed to the case of one bank in New Jersey which has its sexual harassment hotline in the communications department rather than the human resources department. 'Our discipline is becoming the keeper of values,' he said.
Ethical terrorism was just one of five trends identified by Waltz as shaping the future of PR and marketing. Other trends included the impact of technology, behavioralism, global approaches to marketing and communications convergence.
Waltz particularly cautioned attendees about the importance of managing public relations issues in the age of the Internet. Intel's chip problem began online, he pointed out. 'They got a black eye, because they didn't manage the problem online,' he said.