For many years I've criticized Public Relations Society of America for its flowery pretentiousness, and for routinely pontificating on unethical practices without naming names.
So I have to give credit to PRSA CEO Rosanna Fiske for calling out several PR agencies that are working for nations like Libya, Syria and Bahrain.
These firms are "counseling enemies of global democracy; ruthless despots who cut down their own people to save whatever feeble remnants of their legacies may remain," Fiske writes for The Hill's Congress Blog. "When asked to explain their questionable work, most offer a ham-handed response to the effect of: 'We're just the messengers.' This explanation is an insult to all who value transparent and ethical communications from governments and private businesses alike…
"Yes, everyone has the right to have his voice and perspective heard in the global marketplace of ideas. But for U.S. PR firms to represent dictatorships that do not afford that same freedom to their own people is disingenuous to America's liberties and its reputation as a marketplace for dissenting ideas."
Well said. And about time.
It's possible that PRSA's admonishment is too late. For years the organization has emphasized that the role of public relations is effective communications born of good intentions, the so-called "free flow of accurate and truthful information." It has distanced itself from the reality that PR is the business of influence, as if this purpose is inherently unethical. This created today's all-too-prevailing notion that good PR is the end result of itself.
And over time this mushy center made what should be the elevating voice of the profession irrelevant to the companies and agencies that trade in lying, manipulating the truth or working for dictators.
But maybe not. Maybe Fiske's diatribe is the beginning of a new movement. Maybe the scandals that have scarred the nation's confidence in its institutions will embolden PRSA to a new era of advocacy, where the spotlight is unflinching and the battles are epic.
For all Americans, that would be an influence worth having out there.
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