Can we rely on PR’s “moral” minority with this issue?

Last week, as you may have already read, there was much “outrage” and “gnashing of teeth” about a PR firm who sent a broad e-mail to a wide range of (PR) bloggers promoting a book.  It was a faux pas, a mistake, but hardly the end of the world. Unfortunately as often happens in the rarified online atmosphere, we saw an epic over-reaction to this snafu.

Earlier today a more heinous accusation was leveled against a “Sales, Marketing and Public Relations Company”.  (*The accusation is that they created and posted “independent” consumer reviews of their client’s products)

So can we expect these same defenders of perfect PR practice to wail and flame post about this, far more serious, issue? 

Well, probably not, but we’ll see.

I have to say I’m somewhat uncomfortable discussing this latest issue.  One media report doesn’t necessarily provide the full story, and the agency’s response does reference a disgruntled former employee who is doing the rounds bad mouthing the agency.

I’m sure you are speaking with one of our former employees that has been contacting media outlets… I’m not sure what “unethical practices” you are referring to so it would be hard for me to comment, but I am hoping that you will do the proper research to ensure that the facts you are reporting are accurate and nit written based on information provided by a disgruntled former employee who is violating his confidentiality agreement.

That said this does raise a couple of interesting issues:

  • To be credible participants in the social media sphere should PR firms (who have been ensnared in many of these issues since the Interweb emerged and in the real-world before that) publicly state that they eschew these kinds of activities? [This was proposed by the Anti-Astroturfing campaign three years ago]
  • Where do PR industry organizations such as the PRCA stand on this kind of activity?
  • What does this mean for all the “social media gurus” who claim that the ”crowd” will rid the ills of the world – if the crowd is in fact armies of marketing people posing as teenagers (though I’d imagine real teenagers would spot the sweaty 30-something imposter)

It’ll be interesting to see events unfold, and as the facts emerge, it’ll be interesting to see if the moral minority climb up on their high horse again.

Yeah right… I won’t hold my breath.

In the meantime, what can you do?

Back in 2006 Trevor Cook and Paull Young co-founded an Anti-Astroturfing campaign.

We oppose the practice of astroturfing, defined above, in any form. The practice should never be a part of a public relations campaign as it is anti-democratic, unethical, immoral and often illegal.

We will attempt to raise awareness of this practice, expose it for what it is, and encourage our fellow communicators to join us in opposition.

We call for all professional communication bodies to strongly, publicly and actively oppose astroturfing; alongside PR agencies, individual practitioners and bloggers.

Interestingly only five PR firms signed up.

Maybe it’s time to dust off the turf.


Suuplemental: Tom’s Notes:

1) Following some feedback I’ve made a change to this post marked with an asterisk.  Someone suggested I should outline the allegation, which makes sense. 

2) A couple of other people have questioned if this practice really represents astroturfing. They believe that the term astroturfing applies more accurately to companies or industries creating NGOs or think tanks for the purpose of supporting their views on an issue. I think there’s a direct link between both practices.  Though I’m interested in your views on the matter.