Smoke and Mirrors

In PR Week’s Agency Doctor column, Richard Houghton questions ethics in the public relations industry. It struck a chord with me, as one of my friends often refers to my job as ‘smoke and mirrors’, and the first paragraph of Richard’s column refers to peoples’ perception of PR consultancies as being a ‘black art’, ‘spin doctors’, ‘cover ups’ and ‘PR stunts’.


He talks about the time he was approached by representatives of General Augusto Pinochet and how, despite the significant fee attached, he decided to decline the offer.


This reminded me of an incident when I was approached to pitch for a pay-day loans company. Personally, I wouldn’t have felt comfortable working for an organisation in that industry and I too declined the offer. I also passed the lead onto the freelance group that I am part of and it was rejected by everyone else too.


If I had been part of a larger agency, it may well have been the case that the financial bottom line took priority over ‘ethics’. After all, pay-day loan companies aren’t illegal and are governed by the Financial Services Authority. In the case of General Pinochet, when Richard Houghton turned down that business opportunity, he experienced a similar reaction from his boss, who “only had eyes for that quarter’s bottom line.”


That is the joy of working for yourself. You can 100 per cent choose the clients that you want to work with. Ones with a similar mind-set to you, who work in an industry that you have a genuine interest and who consider you part of their team.


Richard concludes his article by asking if it would be right in any circumstances to ditch the ethics and take the money by persuading yourself that everyone deserves to have their voice heard. He believes that a short-term financial gain is dramatically outweighed by the damage to reputation.


There will always be agencies that put fees before ethics, but I agree with Richard that every agency should be a force for good and that we shouldn’t rely on specialist ethical agencies to fly the flag for our industry.


If my job really involved ‘smoke and mirrors’, I just wouldn’t enjoy it.

Blaze PR was created by Sarah Miles who started her public relations career in 1994. Based in Hampshire, we are a PR agency that works with clients in Dorset, Hampshire and Wiltshire, as well as those further afield across the UK.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,