To the Editor: As the chair of the largest association of public relations professionals in the U.S., I found David Segal’s anatomy of the Bell Pottinger saga (Feb. 5, “Rogues, Despots and the Collapse of a PR Firm”) to be riveting. And repulsive.
The story isn’t new to those of us in the PR industry. It is extremely frustrating.
I want to be clear, on behalf of the more than 32,000 professional and student members I represent: What Bell Pottinger did for revenue is not “our PR,” which we practice and advocate for every day. It is not the kind of public relations conducted by professionals who have to sign a Code of Ethics before they can even join the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA).
At the heart of what we pledge is “Truth, accuracy, fairness, and responsibility to the public.”
We won’t lie about our clients, or anyone else, including those who may oppose what our clients advocate. We don’t mislead or shade the truth. We play fair. Basically, we don’t do anything that we wouldn’t want to have widely reported by the news media, with which we must maintain an open relationship. The marketplace has a way of punishing those who don’t uphold ethical standards, as Bell Pottinger has learned.
“Responsibility to the public” – is at the core of what we do. That sometimes surprises people, who assume our only allegiance is to our clients or the organizations we work for. Not true. Of course we do the best we can to advance their interests within the bounds of ethical behavior – but we also do our best to represent the needs and interests of the public to our clients and employers. “Is this the right thing to do?” and “Will it hurt anyone?” are questions we put on the table.
I know that our members – in corporations, schools, small businesses, hospitals, associations, the military, local governments, not-for-profit agencies and many other sectors – take this commitment seriously, as do thousands of other PR professionals across the globe, including our colleagues in the U.K. who expelled Bell Pottinger from their national PR trade association.
Every profession can have bad actors, or good people who make mistakes, but Bell Pottinger did not even practice public relations as I know it. They traded in lies and propaganda – certainly #notOURPR.
Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA
Chair, Public Relations Society of America
Professor of Practice, Public Relations
Syracuse University, Newhouse School of Public Communication