Q: Three months ago I lost my job with a major consumer company, and I have been job-hunting ever since. Nothing very good turned up. I was getting extremely frustrated. Then, about three weeks ago, I got a call from one of the recruiters I had spoken to who was looking to fill a position in the public affairs department of a tobacco company. I had never considered working for a company like that before, but I was not really opposed to the idea, so I went to the interview.Well, now they have offered me a job that pays really, really well, includes a lot of travel and responsibility, and would generally be a step up in my career.
I was prepared to accept the job when my friends started harassing me about it. Now I'm having second thoughts. Is it unethical to work for a company that sells a product that causes cancer? I never really confronted this question before, and I don't know what the answer is. The job would be great, but would I be condemning myself to an ethical quagmire?
Mr. D, New York
A: PR professionals struggle routinely with ethical questions, even working in the most benign industries. It is fortunate for you that this job offer has given you the chance to confront these issues. You need to consider this opportunity very carefully. On the one hand, tobacco is a perfectly legal product that generates enormous tax revenue for states. On the other hand, the tobacco industry is often implicated in questionable marketing practices, and there is no doubt that smoking is linked to health problems.
It would be much easier if you had asked me about taking a job handling PR for Tony Soprano's Hitmen R' Us. But in real life, these decisions truly come down to your internal compass. PR agencies have been working with tobacco companies for years, so you might ask, "Why shouldn't I?" That's a fair question. Just remember that you will have to live with the consequences of your decision.
Q: What do I do about a really nice and obliging journalist who constantly gets her facts wrong? I work for a small firm that specializes in a very specific, small technology market. One of the larger media outlets has a bureau here that effectively ignored us entirely, until they hired a new reporter specifically covering tech.
I have managed to cultivate a pretty good relationship with her by telephone, to the extent that she has included some insights from the CEO of one of our key clients in some larger tech pieces. The problem is, whenever she has written about our client, she has always identified us incorrectly as a nanotechnology company. I've tried to set her straight on what the client does, but it isn't translating into her editorial. How can I help her be more accurate without alienating her?
Ms. L, Portland, OR
A: Seize on this reporter's lack of understanding as an opportunity to polish your pitch. You have a good relationship with the journalist, which you can really use to your advantage. Offer her the opportunity to sit down with the senior executive of one of your client companies for an off-the-record chat on the state of the industry. Present case studies of how the technology is used in practice. Craft a program that will demonstrate to her, both visually and verbally, your client's particular area of technological expertise. You might want to give her some specific examples of great reporting from other sources on the industry. Nothing excites a reporter more than competition. When she understands the technology better, she will be a better reporter.
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