PR Gone Wild

by Allison Burum

I recently read this blog about Reverb Communications, a sales, marketing and Public Relations agency, who is under allegations that its interns have been astroturfing the iTunes Application Store, according to MobileCrunch.

In other words, Reverb asked its interns to post comments to its clients’ iPhone applications which would result in more downloads (although the jury is still out and the company is declining to comment). In recent years, Public Relations has had its name and meaning drug through the dirt. Thank you, Wag the Dog and Thank You for Smoking for your assistance in that department.

Wait a second. Aren’t we in the business of relating to people? Something tells me lying to them should be the dying art, not communicating transparently. The Public Relations Society of America gives PR practitioners a few rules to live (and die) by:

  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
  • Foster informed decision making through open communication.
  • Protect confidential and private information.
  • Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.

It makes sense right? Well, where have all the ethical PR practitioners gone?

I’m beginning to wonder myself.

Why do many fail to do what is right – compromising the fundamental values that make us good at what we do. At what expense would you sell your soul to become a successful spin doctor? What line would you have to cross to make the client look good at the price of your morals?

A professor from my early journalism classes asked these questions and gave a profound example. Kevin Carter, Pulitzer-winning photographer, took a photo in famine-stricken Sudan in 1993. The girl in the photo was struggling to get to a food center, which was located directly behind the brush in the back of the picture. Carter had a decision to make – either pick the girl up and carry her to the food center or take the picture which could tell the story to the world. He took the course of journalism, got the picture and moved on. He won a Pulitzer for the photo, but wretched for his actions, he committed suicide shortly after.

So, I will leave you with this food for thought. Where does your line fall?

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