There’s a real difference between advocacy and straight-out bullshit.
A leading PR agency recently gave a story to the national press, about a "member of the public" who used a product to deal with excessive sweat. That person was in fact a member of staff at the PR agency and the product manufacturer was a client.
The transgression is compounded when you create a false identity for the person in question, claiming that it’s to protect them, when you’ve put them in that position in the first place.
Taking fees to mislead journalists and the public is simply unethical. Asking a staff member to dissemble on behalf of the agency is at best unreasonable and at worst a form of abuse.
Well it’s about time the industry called out the bullshit. Hacking phones, MPs and expenses, I don’t have to go on. "Everyone does it, they always have", is no justification.
A year ago, in his Charles Wheeler lecture the BBC's Robert Peston said: "The point is that as a journalist I have never been in any doubt that PRs are the enemy." He added: "PRs aren’t the only bullshitters; but if they are not paid to bullshit… what are they being paid to do?"
As an industry we have to decide that either he’s right or we have to stand up and say that deceit plays no part in what we do.
PR practitioners who lie bring the industry into disrepute.
The industry bodies the CIPR and PRCA must lead the way by making it clear that while it may have echoes in the past for some of our members, it has no place in the present.
Rob Brown is the CIPR's president-elect