PR POV: Can Your Agency Afford Not to Take Business from Dictator, Despot or Political Undesirable?
By JM de Jesus, MBA, President, Quadrant Two PR
In an oligarchic, hyper-competitive marketplace for PR and marketing communications, where budgetary muscle, youthful exuberance, and a hybrid of management greed and ignorance too often replace the importance of expertise … can your agency turn business away for political or ideological objections?
Our firm has represented both His Excellency Ange Felix Patasse, President of Central African Republic, and CITGO/Petroleos de Venezuela, currently under the state run control of the Hugo Chavez government.
In no uncertain terms, it is categorically a “yes” from me that these entities barring some form of genocidal repression, have the right to have their views and messaging publicized. This does not mean that I am in favor of some or all of their actions. I must say that it was special to represent entities directly under the control of Mr. “Still Smells Like Sulphur,” when in 2010 CITGO donated branded baseball equipment to little leaguers in six or seven U.S. states.
In and of itself, these entities — Chavez’ CITGO, along with President Patasse and CAR’s trade mission visit to Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem years ago — were not unethical activities. In my mind, I was ensuring not only my own sustainability, but the overall sustainability of a business and its employees.
Indeed, this is a client like any other. Had I suspected that they were trying to set the stage for a U.S.-led Invasion of their countries — as in the the first Gulf War when an unnamed country hired a LARGE U.S. based PR agency to report false atrocities, complete with video of things that had happened long before the facts — then I believe that I would not have taken on the assignment.
First, because I do not like visits from men in black suits with wires leading from their ears; and secondly because I have a serious problem with lying to the public, or misleading the press, be it American or otherwise. Ours is a function of presenting spin, which must contain truth and facts nonetheless.
But alas, most of us fellow Americans assume that despots and despicable actions are far away in little countries with both long and short names we need to practice to pronounce. When I hear some of the negative spin coming from entities that are trusted in US society, such as one of the parties running a candidate for U.S. presidency, I am more convinced than ever, that I am on the right track with my position; and that I and my firm is upholding not only PRSA ethics and standards but humanist standards which I believe to be of the highest order. Despite the fact that Ayn Rand would be no fan of mine, the amazingly well-funded political spinsters I am referring to, are doing a far less ethical job of representing their candidates than what we did for the CITGO and CAR clients.
My clients only asked me to create greater visibility and demand to ultimately interest American investors, not necessarily distort the facts, or omit truth, to get their man in office by fooling the less politically expedient, and pandering to the worst of human failings.
In the book about the Rwandan genocide of 1994, “Left To Tell,” by Immaculée Ilibagiza, we see an instance in which the author recalls overhearing broadcasts of radio interviews with the head of the Hutus who launched a continuous propaganda blitz telling people where to go to get weapons (mostly machetes and clubs, but sometimes guns and grenades) with which to kill their Tutsi neighbors. This nightmare and misuse of PR and media relations, led to the horrific genocide of up to 800,000 Tutsi Rwandans.
Clearly, this is something that I hope any ethical PR practitioner could not bear to be a part of. Admittedly, it is an extreme and dramatic example.
Let’s discuss a scandal of a supposedly far more sophisticated nature, such as the phone hacking scandal in Great Britain involving News of the World, a Murdoch owned publication. Regardless of the implications, our personal views, and not that he really needs us with the media he controls, but I for one would not hesitate for an instant to represent Mr. Murdoch and allow him to present his views of this now notoriously public situation. Far from a despot, Mr. Murdoch has many public detractors and non-fans, as well.
Clearly, part of this has to do with the market forces in which some of us support those pesky habits of regular meals and paying our rents and mortgages on time to avoid homelessness.
Furthermore, I submit that in some cases it allows for things beyond plain business sustainability. In many less serious cases, bragging rights that we were able to assist our clients in getting out of trouble. After all, aren’t we supposed to be problem solvers for or clients? Especially those in crisis, like Mr. Murdoch who has gone so far as to publicly state that “the entire U.S. Congress is incompetent.” I am certain that statement reduced his popularity on the U.S. political landscape, but does not the constitution’s First Amendment, and — of course — our counsel, guarantee him the right to say so regardless of whether we are in agreement or not?
Published: August 16, 2012 By: