How do you define right and wrong in PR?

Posted on 11/12/2013


How do you define right and wrong in PR?Yesterday morning’s papers showed two different sides of PR.

While the boss of Bell Pottinger represents dictators claimed his firm are decent people in the Guardian, Save the Children are alleged to be supressing news stories to curry favour with corporate donors in the Independent. So how do you define right and wrong in PR?

Wrong on the right?

The Guardian led with a banner trailing a rare interview with the man who taught Thatcher how to pretend to relax and founder of PR firm Bell Pottinger, Lord Tim Bell. This man is portrayed by the left as evil incarnate and has a well recorded track record of defending the indefensible.

To firms like Lord Bell’s, a dodgy dossier can be the basis of a lucrative brief and they are not alone. As the Guardian points out, PR firms across the country are busy defending clients ranging from sweat shops to dictators.

Yet there is something admirable about the principle behind what they do – everyone has the right to representation in a democracy. Just because I (or, I hope many of my Claremont colleagues) would turn down almost every brief Bell Pottinger Private and the like would accept, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a belief system at work. Bell himself does hint at one principle that drives his firm:

We’ve never been approached by a leftwing government, that I’m aware of. You don’t want an adviser that doesn’t agree with you.

Towing a left-hand line?

One PR who has learned the hard way that you need to agree with your organisation featured on the Independent and i front pages.

The former Save the Children head of press has turned whistle blower on his charity’s dealings with big business and claims that, in order to safeguard corporate donations, he was ordered to spike a news story criticising energy firms.

Save the Children may well deny this. But just as any organisation can use busy news days to sneak out announcements they don’t want attention for (oh come on, everyone knows it still happens), so all charities will make sacrifices to keep their donors happy. Charities do not have a monopoly on ethics and principles – and just as there will always be politics in charity campaigns, there will always be money.

In essence, yesterday’s front pages told us that sometimes those we believe are amoral have princples and those charities we see as saintly are as easy to buy as any other organisation. But throughout both articles what is clear is that who you decide to work for will always remain a personal decision.

So just how do you define right and wrong in PR?

It simply comes down to your own personal beliefs.

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