The Council of Public Relations Firms advocates for the business of PR, and stays abreast of any developments that may impact our members. We take these responsibilities seriously.
We are monitoring the FCC's inquiries into the use of VNRs by TV stations, and the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) interest in word of mouth and/or buzz marketing and product placement. Additionally, several initiatives were introduced last year, including the Federal Propaganda Prohibition Act and the Truth in Broadcasting Act Bill. All could significantly affect our industry.
Issues for Firms and their Clients
We owe ourselves the same level of scrutiny and diligence that we offer clients. Some of the current issues in the PR business include:
FTC and Marketing to Children: A 2005 report requested by Congress and funded by the Centers for Disease Control warned that "current food and beverage marketing practices put kids' long-term health at risk." In 2006, the FTC and the Health and Human Services department released a report detailing minimum nutrition standards, as well as changes the food industry can make in marketing techniques to children in order to combat childhood obesity.
FDA and Direct-to-Consumer Marketing: The FDA is examining how pharmaceutical companies' direct-to-consumer advertising is used with the promotion of new prescription drugs, specifically in regards to improving risk information and disclosure in such ads.
Emerging Technologies: Disclosure now extends to the Internet, including blogs and other social media sites. Recently, a public affairs firm failed to disclose its involvement in a YouTube spoof of Al Gore's global warming movie, An Inconvenient Truth - and was subsequently discovered by The Wall Street Journal. The emergence of new communications channels should not excuse practitioners from using common sense when it comes to disclosure.
Putting Action Behind the Words
The best form of issues management is one that shields against potential fallout. In 2005, the Council developed a "Statement of Principles" document, which clarified industry standards for disclosure and transparency. This year, the Council followed up by creating an "ethical decision-making" program for members.
The program focuses on training staff for the changing communications landscape. Sessions have been held in New York, Chicago, San Francisco, and Washington, DC, with a webinar planned for October, which have been highly rated by Council members. Developed and donated by Ketchum and Davis & Gilbert, LLP, the program features PR-specific case studies, best practices for disclosure guidelines, and an important legal tutorial on the government regulations that cover our industry. At the end of this program, members receive a turnkey training program in the form of a CD.
The Council will continue to monitor developments in Washington, DC, and elsewhere, and will educate our members on the implications and ramifications these changes may have for their businesses.
Marcia Silverman is the CEO of Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide and is the incoming 2007 Chair of the Council of Public Relations Firms.
The Council is dedicated to strengthening the recognition and role of public relations firms in corporate strategy, business performance, and social education, serving as an authoritative source of information and expert comment and helping set standards for the PR industry. For more information about the Council of Public Relations Firms, call 1-877-PRFIRMS or visit our Web site at www. prfirms.org.
This column is contributed and paid for by the Council of PR Firms.