I’ve been reading a lot about the responsibility public relations professionals should take when communicating on behalf of their clients. My friend and mentor, professor Bill Sledzik at Kent State University, posted a blog about his colleague’s article in the Akron Beacon Journal today questioning a chemical company’s public relations campaign.
The company, chemical giant Monsanto, is lobbying to keep facts about its bovine hormone, used on cows to help them produce more milk, off the label by asking congress to restrict what milk companies can say about their product. That’s a whole side story that I’m not going to get into right now. In fact, I’m not surprised – after all, if companies don’t have to tell you if they’re serving you milk or meat from cloned animals why should they have to tell you what’s in it at all.
What I would like to get in to is what role should PR professionals play in taking responsibility for its clients actions. This space would be where you’ll find my answer, but honestly, I don’t know. So let’s take a little lighter look.
Another blog I look forward to reading is Advergazna. She reported on the recent viral campaign launched by Quizno’s where they invite customers to make a video about how much ‘Subway sucks’ and upload it to their site. Subway isn’t too happy about it – should they be? Or should they be jealous because they didn’t think of it first? Should the agency that recommended this [great idea] not have done it because even though it’s cool and on target with Quizno’s target audeince, Subway might be upset? What if the public relations practioner handling the account didn’t agree with the tactic? Does it matter?
So two totally different examples, but the same question – at the end of the day does it matter what the PR practioner has to say or is their number one goal to act in the best interest of its client? In the case of the milk; if the chemical company wants to maintain a successful business it is in their best interest to continue with business as is, minimizing the attention its hormone receives due to people perceiving it as damaging.
But what if the person handling the business thinks differently? Are we at liberty to make a difference – or does that fall into marketer – client privilege? Have public relations practioners become the lawyers of the marketing world? At the end of the day is it simply enough to voice your opinion, have it noted on the record and carry out the very thing that you oppose? Do the needs of the one (your client) outweigh the needs of the many?
This can be debated for a long time. However, there is only one answer, and that is what do you think is the right thing to do? You have to make the decision that is best for you, your employer, your co-workers and of course your family. If that means walking away from business, so be it. If that means living with the decision you’ve made to represent your client, so be that.