Tuesday, June 3

Talking Turkey: Andrew Cohen VS. Public Relations

The Buzz Bin is abuzz, providing a snapshot of the "kertuffle" over the CBS analyst Andrew Cohen’s remarks about the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), which was prompted by former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan's new book.

Excerpt from McClellan’s book:

So I stood at the White House briefing room podium in front of the glare of the klieg lights for the better part of two weeks and publicly exonerated two of the senior-most aides in the White House: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby.

There was one problem. It was not true.

Except from PRSA about the book:

In the wake of the recently published book by former presidential press secretary Scott McClellan, PRSA is calling for government reform and challenging the 2008 presidential candidates to adopt a communications policy engaging principles like those in the PRSA Member Code of Ethics.

Excerpt from Cohen about public relations:

Show me a PR person who is "accurate" and "truthful," and I'll show you a PR person who is unemployed.

The reason companies or governments hire oodles of PR people is because PR people are trained to be slickly untruthful or half-truthful. Misinformation and disinformation are the coin of the realm, and it has nothing to do with being a Democrat or a Republican.

Excerpt from Robert French, which mirrors much of the industry reaction:

You know, I see this latest example of PR bashing (from a news network that feeds off of media relations) to be just another in a long line of foolish, ignorant (and a bit arrogant) people. Even funnier, regarding this happening on CBS - of all places, it was their network that recently wanted to farm out some of their coverage to CNN and not do it themselves.

Except from PRSA’s rebuttal:

Regarding your commentary on today’s CBS Sunday Morning, the Board of Directors of the Public Relations Society finds it imperative to affirm the professionalism of public relations practitioners and to take exception with what we regard as a misguided opinion.

Except from Cohen’s rebuttal after the flack:

I am now the target of a public-relations effort to ridicule my effort, my points, my character and integrity. I expected nothing less. I mean, when you make fun of people whose job it is to burnish public images you’ve got to expect they are going to, well, burnish their own public images at the expense of your own. I am not taking it personally.

My take, part one:

Every year, I share two points to public relations professionals that might apply.

1. As a public relations professional, your reputation stays with you, not the company, organization, or government entity that asks you to lie. So, basically, don’t do it.

2. As a public relations professional, you cannot control what other people say; only how you react to what they say.

My take, part two:

I think we just witnessed a mainstream media version of a blog drama among eagles. How very quaint.



Kim on 6/3/08, 1:07 PM said...

....a turkey is still a turkey. lol

Chief Rabbit on 6/3/08, 4:21 PM said...

Mr. Cohen also holds a law degree, a profession one could paint as rife with dubious characters and unethical tactics that isn't about justice.

In his follow-up on the CBS blog, he says "Of course, my essay generalized about the PR profession. That’s what 450-word essays do. I am sure there honest and accurate public relations people out there just as there are (somewhere, I suppose) honest journalists and lawyers."

Hmm, wonder what his CBS bosses and fellow colleagues are thinking to this bashing?

Given his high opinion of himself, he might want to think about wearing a "flak jacket" tho he says he's not taking any of this personally.

Rich on 6/5/08, 4:32 PM said...


Very true. I suppose that is why we likened it to a blog drama, with one kettle calling the kettle other black.

One only has to read the news to grasp that every profession has its share of dubious characters and ethical lapses. It's part of the human condition.

Any distinction usually resides with the individual. I cannot speak for everyone, but I know we resign accounts that ask us to lie. And if public safety was at risk, then we would report it as appropriate.


Anonymous said...

I'm really just wondering (after reading these post) what you’re take on ethics are. Obviously you take the ethical side but is it true that ethics in the curriculum of Business is rather new? I have heard that in a recent ethics class – that business schools have only mandated ethics classes since Enron and other corporate scandals have come to light. I almost believe it because I had friends in business school while I was in art school that claimed they were taught to lie – almost as if getting away with more was an ethic. – rather off topic but ethics and business came to light and I have been wondering if this generalization has any merit.

Rich on 6/6/08, 9:28 AM said...

Hey Kevin,

Ethics has always been part of business. There are several studies that point to the fact that ethical companies, those with strong values, have a better ROI over the long term.

What is knew is that what once was the rule now requires curriculum support as you mentioned.

I've heard of people attempting to claim that the ability to lie is an ethic or at least valued. In reality, attempting to place value on the ability to tell mistruths is a justification for an ignorant and misguided behavior styles.

As an example, I once witnessed a client instruct an employee to lie about a promised price of goods in order to inflate their profit margin on the purchase. If we break it down, we might learn that the first lie was told because they were afraid they weren't going to get the business. The second lie was told because they took pride in their ability to take advantage of their client.

In fact, most lies generally come from either pride or fear and neither of those qualities demonstrate strong character. (Needless to say, they are not our client any longer; the example wasn't the only reason.)

So do people lie? Sure. Does that mean we have to lie to compete with them? Not at all. And it especially doesn't make sense for a public relations person to lie for someone else to the media. The media won't remember who they lied for, only that they lied.

Of course, this relates to business, and not necessarily in all matters of foreign affairs.


Anonymous said...

Thnks Rich.

I personally believe that being honest is very important and that ethics and integrity are worth alot.

I don't know why but I consider a book called American Generalship: Charecter is everything in the art of Command - as a bible for executive leadership. It is a military text but as you can imagine it is one that emphasizes a great deal of personal integrity.


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