EDITORIAL: As country calls for more accountability, PR practitioners must prepare to defend actions

A number of issues have emerged recently that have tested the definitions of ethical PR practices.

A number of issues have emerged recently that have tested the definitions of ethical PR practices.

The proper deployments of VNRs, business cards, corporate titles, and political relationships have been most prominently debated. But these are not isolated matters, nor are they limited to PR and its tactics. Rather, they are part of an increasingly cynical environment that is causing situations to blister quickly, particularly in areas where trust in information delivery is questioned. The news media, the government, CEOs, and reality TV shows all have been targets of sharp criticism when their credibility has been challenged. The consequences for violating trust are huge, as evidenced by a recent example in the UK. Daily Mirror editor Piers Morgan was fired when he allowed bogus photos of British troops violating Iraqi prisoners to be published in the paper. Morgan maintained he was duped, and other examples of journalistic error did not result in such extreme measures. But it is a sign of the times. Some wondered why, at the height of the corporate scandals that swept Enron, WorldCom, Tyco, and others, PR was not particularly singled out as an instrumental player in the effort to mislead stakeholders. A few practitioners in the thick of it, like Mark Palmer at Enron, were able to move on from their troubled organizations and even win grudging respect from journalists intent on taking the companies down. The fact is, PR is less invisible than it used to be. Tim Russert's widely reported upbraiding of Colin Powell's interfering press aide a few weeks ago was one example of how apparent is the "handling" of prominent people and situations. As the country's, and the world's, sentiment continues to demand greater accountability on issues affecting the public trust, PR professionals should be prepared to be called to defend their actions more and more. And, by the way, don't be lulled into thinking "public trust" refers only to matters of high governmental importance. Plenty of people were more pissed off that they couldn't vote for their selection on American Idol than they were that their vote didn't count in Florida in 2000. PR Play of the Week is now making the grade Our back-page element, PR Play of the Week, has been updated to include a rating system. Douglas Quenqua, our Washington, DC, bureau chief, who pens the item, will assign a grade to each week's entry, ranging from "clueless" to "ingenious." Though some might be tempted to try and pitch their better programs, this element is more about what catches our eye and, presumably, the eye of its intended audience. Some "winners" may be merely opportunistic moments, others calculated programs, but we aim to move this section away from merely pointing out the PR at work and offer an assessment of its appropriateness, effectiveness, and intelligence. The lighthearted nature and placement of the element underscores a serious point. Metrics are important, but so is the gut reaction. In this one area, we are relying on our own human reactions to the PR tactics that we witness to define our response to it. It will be interesting to find out from readers if they agree or disagree with the verdicts rendered.

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