PR Scandals Need Attention, Perspective

If we do what we do well, being in the PR business provides us with aspects of work life most never get.

We are given access: to places most will never visit and to information most will never receive first-hand, without the filter of news.

We are given trust: some of the most important people and organizations in communities and societies rely on us for counsel to make pivotal decisions and to represent them to their most important audiences.

Two stories in the news this week should remind those of us who have earned these privileges of the biblical adage “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

The first, reported by Crain’s New York Business, alleges that 5W Public Relations, a New York firm owned by Ronn Torrossian, who is something of a celebrity himself, and that reportedly bills its clients in excess of $20 million per year, bought and staffed a PR industry website that essentially was designed to smear competitors and prop up one firm – its owner.

This report led the New York chapter of the Public Relations Society of America, a national organization that typically focuses on professional development, to issue this statement:

“In addition to being a cowardly and blatant violation of PRSA’s Code of Ethics, Ronn’s actions are a stain on our profession and undermine our role as guardians of facts and integrity for those we serve. We strongly condemn his and his firm’s direct role in perpetrating disinformation while pretending to be a legitimate industry news site.”

That’s serious. And, given the source, apparently warranted.

The second is a report that the Dallas Cowboys, arguably America’s most significant sports franchise, settled a claim for more than $2 million after allegations that the team’s longtime head of PR invaded the privacy of cheerleaders who were changing in a locker room. It’s reported extensively in this ESPN story.

Regardless of the validity of the allegations, the fact that they would surface could be harmful to communications professionals in that industry who deserve and benefit from facility access. It would be a shame if this served as some sort of precedent that would cause organizations to rethink that.

It’s important for those of us in this line of work to understand the alleged transgressions of others. It’s also important for those who grant us the privileges that, ideally, allow us to serve best to please evaluate us on our own individual merits.