NEW YORK: Ketchum's role in the Armstrong Williams "pay for play" contract continues to resonate throughout the industry, sparking media speculation, government inquiries, and a public ideological split.
Several advocacy groups have submitted Freedom of Information Act requests for the release of all federal PR contracts, and at least one senator has requested an investigation into all Department of Education PR contracts and the disclosure of all PR and ad spending by federal agencies.
The PRSA issued a statement calling it the "natural fallout" of the Ketchum contract.
On January 12, Elliot Sloane, CEO of Sloane & Co., pulled his firm out of the Council of PR Firms after council president Kathy Cripps publicly defended Ketchum. Cripps told PRWeek earlier, "Ketchum is not culpable," and "I think Ketchum is taking some unfair heat."
Harris Diamond, council chairman and Weber Shandwick CEO, issued a statement on behalf of the council last week that read, "Payments to journalists for specific coverage ('pay for play') is unacceptable."
Diamond emphasized that his statement was the one that spoke for the group. Asked about Cripps' conflicting words, he said only, "It was an earlier comment at an earlier time."
Meanwhile, agency heads questioned what effect the mixed messages may have on their employees wondering what is considered an acceptable journalist relationship.
"This whole affair has been a black mark on the PR industry," Sloane said. "The quiet from our industry leaders is deafening."
Lou Capozzi, chairman and CEO of MS&L, said the case raises questions about "where the lines are drawn" in the PR and journalism professions. He stressed the importance of public-interest PR work and said, "The industry needs to keep reminding people of the positive role it plays in our democracy."