Monday, April 10, 2006

So Much For Transparency 

One of the tenets of PR is to perform services in the open. We tell people who we are and what we do to maintain credibility. Well, so much for transparency, if this BusinessWeek story is to be believed. Apparently, a communications firm in Washington, DC, called Dezenhall Resources, likes to work in deep shadows and perform operations that are ethically suspect. Because the firm works out of the limelight, there is no proof it has done anything it is alleged to have done, but because it is not transparent, there is no proof it hasn't done these things either.

There is confidential PR work and activities we don't normally disclose to the public, but they are not usually activities that bring one into disrepute. Yes, PR practitioners help companies position themselves favorably. Yes, we ghostwrite for executives who may not have the time or capability to do it for themselves. Yes, we work behind the scenes to get companies out of trouble by disclosing facts to reporters and editors. I'm not aware, however, of many -- or any -- PR firms that challenge the tax-exempt status of organizations to win a point.

Some PR practitioners might say it's a good tactic, and they wish they had thought of it. Others will squirm with the ethics of it. I'm squirming. These kinds of tactics are win at any cost, which is why I suppose some corporations like them. But, there is a cost of working that way, and it is the lack of credibility and honesty that ultimately taints persons or organizations that use underhanded techniques. No wonder they like to stay in the shadows.

A problem for PR is that there is rarely a bright line between what is clearly right and wrong. Practitioners use their own ethical sense to know where and when to stop. Some practitioners have poorly developed ethical sensitivities -- or none at all. Winning is the only thing that counts. These kind seem drawn to politics and Washington DC.


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