Trafigura, Twitter and the questions for PRs

Posted on 14/10/2009

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I’ll cut to the chase – those who haven’t read up on Twitter vs. Trafigura/Carter Ruck only have to read the just one the Guardian’s articles on the scandal to realise the case has implications for PR.

Will Jordan has started discussing this, but I think it raises five key questions for PRs, which certainly weren’t discussed in PR Week’s brief coverage of the issue this morning.

1) Will this become a case study of how not to act reputationally in the social media age.
Has there been a more spectacular transformation from a company which was virtually unknown to one with a reputation as a toxic waste dumper and destroyer of free speech in a matter of 24 hours?

2) What was the role of PR in the situation – Bell Pottinger’s denials in PR Week are being questioned by The Guardian?

3) Regardless of BP’s role. This is more important – where do PRs and lobbyists start to get involved in these legal proceedings? Is a case for the Law Society and the CIPR to investigate best practice and provide guidance?

4) Every PR needs to think about how they would have acted in the situation. Where does protecting a client and their right to representation become more important than protecting free speech? And do we need to look again at the ‘whistleblowing’ protection PRs have in this circumstance (membership of NUJ or CIPR looks more attractive by the minute)?

5) Finally, what is the resonance of this campaign? Sure PROs and the twitterati have heard of it, but has it resonated with the public? And what is the likely impact on Trafigura as a business?

And apart from these initial questions – what next?

Yes, Twitter has helped protect democracy and free speech – but should we as a nation really need to rely on Twitter to play this role? Will this mean new legislation to counter the actions of some lawyers – and what is the lobbying industry’s thoughts on how big business will react to this?