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July 6, 2010
Coast Guard Stumbles in Calling Up a PR Reservist
This is the kind of thing that gives public relations a bad name. It doesn't help the U.S. Coast Guard's good name either. Georgianne Nienaber reports on The Huffington Post a potential of conflict of interest that, it would seem, both the Coast Guard and a PR professional would want to avoid.

Rachel Polish, a Coast Guard reservist, was called to 60 days of active duty on the BP oil spill. Her Coast Guard responsibilities, Ms. Nienaber shows, apparently include media liaison, writing press releases and stories for publication, on-the-scene photography, and coordination with external agencies. Her civilian job is with Ogilvy Public Relations "creating engaging experiences designed to promote awareness, brand loyalty, advocacy and conversion..." Ogilvy is a PR contractor to BP on the gulf oil spill, where the Coast Guard is responsible for overseeing the cleanup on behalf to the U.S. public.

Ms. Polish tells the Huffington Post that "I would never work on anything that would pose a conflict of interest."

Regardless, the Coast Guard should have have had the good sense to excuse this particular reservist from this particular assignment, involving as it does dual loyalties.

It is practically impossible for anyone in a dicey situation to segregate his or her professional skills from conflicting interests, even if the conflict is masked in gentlemanly terms as it typically is between the Coast Guard and BP.  All of this, as it happens, was called to Ms. Nienaber's attention by social media input on Facebook and Twitter in response to a post she did on the Coast Guard's controversial new rule keeping the public, including the media, at least 65 feet away from Deepwater Horizon oil spill response operations "under penalty of law."  

CNN's Anderson Cooper says the new exclusion zones are preventing the media from taking "deeply disturbing" photos of oil-soaked wildlife and other unsettling environmental aspects of the spill. 

This is clearly no place for a PR professional with potentially divided loyalties, and the Coast Guard should have recognized that. 



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Doug Bedell has a background in journalism and PR and is the owner of Resource Relations LLC in Central PA, focusing on organizational and crisis communication. He’s the community manager of SimplyFair.net, a social network on fairness. On the Web, Doug’s at www.ResourceRelations.com. On Twitter, he’s @DougBeetle.
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