When PR and Ad Terrorism Crossed A Line

What happened this past week to one businessperson and community leader should never happen anywhere. Media executives and communications professionals should pay attention and agree that it crossed a line.

We know that media, both traditional and social, can be powerful tools for expressing and shaping opinion. But when tactics cross over into acts of terrorism, media can be a dangerous place.

Mark Davidoff felt like he and his family were in physical danger this week because of a disgusting advertising and PR campaign.

Mark is a role model in the Detroit business community. In addition to his “day job” as regional leader of a global accounting and consulting firm, Mark says “yes” to more business and community organizations than anyone and serves deeply and consistently in volunteer roles. There are days when I look at my calendar and wonder how I’m going to get through all of the commitments on it and remember that Mark’s is even more crowded and he gets it done, professionally and with high-impact, making it all look easy.

One of his many roles this year is the volunteer chairman of the Michigan Chamber of Commerce, where he chairs a board of 84 businesspeople. This is not a traditional chamber of commerce, it’s more of a lobbying and campaign funding organization. But, as with any board, the chair is a volunteer leader and must act in what he or she feels is the best interest of the mission of the organization. The chair’s company’s responsibility is to provide the chair with the time required to do the volunteer work, not necessarily to embrace every action of the organization.

In the past week, Mark and his employer have been the targets of a vicious, personal and threatening campaign by an out-of-state special interest group that disagrees with the Chamber on an upcoming ballot proposal and a surrounding legal challenge. In full-page newspaper ads, Mark, along with some others,  was targeted personally and inaccurately. In online news ads, the headline read “Don’t Be Like Mark,” with his photo. Protesters picketed his company’s local offices. Online commenters provided specific threats on what they would do to Mark’s home and family. Media were used in an act of terrorism.

News outlets, even a couple that accepted the ads have lined up to expose and condemn these actions, through an editorial in Crain’s Detroit Business and columnists such as the Detroit News‘ conservative editorial page editor Nolan Finley and the Detroit Free Press’ liberal Rochelle Riley.

But we all know some consultant or firm made a bunch of money organizing and designing this campaign. Political media spin sleaze is one thing. Political media terrorism is another.

Awful actions like this is part of why the outside PR counsel is too often not trusted inside corporate boardrooms. We all get branded in this category.

Agencies, no matter the financial windfall potential, should refuse these assignments. News organizations should too.

Let’s also hope volunteer leadership, so needed in our cities, won’t refuse their chances to serve because of what happened this week.