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March 9, 2011
PR's Standing Keeps Getting Squashed
 
Public relations, unfortunately, has an endless challenge to gain the high ground as a respectable field of practice. Here are a couple of examples of the sort of hindrances that regularly crop up to plague the best efforts of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) and others.

Kirk Hazlett, a professor of communication at Curry College in Milton, Mass. and a PRSA board member, wrote a letter to The Boston Globe over his concern that faculty members at Harvard University who did consulting work for Libyan strongman Moammar Khadafy  via the Monitor Group might be mistaken  as practitioners of public relations. "Public relations places an emphasis on counseling reputable organizations and individuals in developing and maintaining beneficial relationships with concerned stakeholders," he wrote. "Libyan leader Moammar Khadafy shows no inclination to embrace this fundamental concept; rather, with the aid of Monitor Group, he appears to have been more interested in manipulating those who find themselves associated, willingly or not, with him and his dictatorial regime.

"The Public Relations Society of America’s (PRSA) Code of Ethics," Professor Hazlett continued, "delineates what comprises ethical public relations, and could be condensed to a single statement: Do the right thing. Aiding a dictatorial tyrant in the fabrication of a false persona is not the right thing, and most assuredly not the hallmark of ethical public relations or business practices." 

Well, that's clear enough as far as Khadafy is concerned. But what about the two new clients the Navigator Ltd. PR firm in Toronto, Canada, recently acquired? Two doctors up there, Amitabh Chauhan and Suganthan Kayilasanathan, are accused of sexual assault after they allegedly met a woman at a Toronto hotel bar "took her to another bar, gave her an unknown substance, then took her back to the hotel and sexually assaulted her." 

Those two gentlemen, of course, are entitled to representation, both legal and as regards the media. But what bothers us in the interest of PR's own standing is the full-out candor of the Navigator firm's trademark: "When You Can't Afford to Lose."  Presumably the two accused doctors will have the best batterers of their plaintiff's image that money can buy. And that goes by the name of public relations support.

Kind of ominous for PR's good name in Canada, wouldn't you say PRSA? 

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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the proprietor of Resource Relations in Central PA, which focuses on organizational communication, crisis communication, and social media. His blog, “Beetles Beat,” can be found at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s DougBeetle.
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