PR Execs Call for Closer Look at Tools of the Trade: Poor Publicity Has Industry Calling for Improvements in Self-Regulation

By Van Der Pool, Lisa | ADWEEK, January 17, 2005 | Go to article overview

PR Execs Call for Closer Look at Tools of the Trade: Poor Publicity Has Industry Calling for Improvements in Self-Regulation


Van Der Pool, Lisa, ADWEEK


BOSTON Public relations has an image problem. In the last two weeks, a slew of bad press over the use of such basic PR tools as video news releases and paid endorsements for public affairs accounts has practitioners demanding that the industry do more to police itself before more damage is done.

"My biggest fear here is that we'll see a general backlash, a witch hunt if you will, of people saying these PR activities are inappropriate," said Jerry Swerling, director of PR studies at the USC Annenberg School for Communications in Los Angeles. "They're going to start questioning in general the use of outside PR counsel for government agencies, but in so doing they will completely overlook all the essential and great work that's being done in many crucial areas like healthcare education, energy, environmental issues.... It's incumbent on us to bend over backward to deal proactively with this."

Since the new year began, the tally of crises includes the failure by Omnicom's Ketchum to disclose the payment of $241,000 to conservative commentator Armstrong Williams to tout the No Child Left Behind Act for the Department of Education (leading one lawmaker to ask for a federal investigation); a growing number of activist groups calling for Lynn Swann, chairman of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports, to be relieved of his post after the former football star accepted payment to appear at a PR event for a vending machine trade association; and the General Accountability Office calling the Office of National Drug Control Policy's former use of video news releases "covert propaganda." Also this month, Doug Dowie, head of the Los Angeles office of Omnicom's Fleishman-Hillard, was fired along with two other former staffers in that city's ongoing investigation of alleged overbilling by the agency on the L.A. Department of Water and Power account. …

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