The Silence on Ketchum is Deafening

"I have raised points that I thought should be picked up by other PR bloggers, where we would all raise a red flag ... and silence."

That was my quote last June for PR Week's article on PR bloggers push forth the medium.

What happened? Nothing has really changed - I blog about issues that I see as wrong in public relations ... and it's not picked up anywhere.

Why don't PR bloggers raise the red flag on issues within PR? Why have we stayed silent on the Ketchum debacle, and not raised our voice. While this is a PR issue - and we are all about how blogs are the new communications tools, change the world, blah blah - Ketchum has barely been brought up in the PR blogosphere.

And, now, we get to bear the brunt of this. Jay Rosen notes that while PR bloggers are not necessarily blogging about PR - nor is it mandatory that we do - they have been unusually silent on the Ketchum issue. A little bit of a brag, but the blog he notes has blogged the most - a measly three times - is my little blog. The other blog to raise the red flag? Richard Edelman's Speak Up.

It's not just the bloggers that have failed public relations - it's PRSA and its attempt to pin the blame fully on Williams and letting Ketchum off pretty free. Or, the Council of PR Firms flat out defending Ketchum ... then losing members for that defense.

PR Week allowed Kotcher to post an op-ed on the Ketchum issue ... where he noted that the Williams issue is a "transformational event," but fails to take full responsibility for being the reason that PR is possibly going through a transformation. What happened to responsibility? Ketchum did not disclose that they had paid Williams because it would have ruined the campaign, and Williams did not disclose he was paid because he doesn't see himself as a journalist, but a businessman. It's quite possible that Williams does not grasp his position as a pundit, but he thinks it's great that this might change PR for the better.

I think PR Week realized it had made a mistake on providing Kotcher a soapbox - if he wanted to address the issue, Ketchum's homepage would have been a good place to start. Julia Hood addressed the issue quite well in her editorial, that Ketchum needed to take responsibility for its actions. Ketchum, for its part, most likely realized that the op-ed it posted only added fuel to the fire, and released a new statement ... two week's later.

After the Rosen piece appeared, a few PR bloggers have picked up the flag and wrote about it:
  • Steve Rubel notes that he was one of the PR bloggers called out, but that his blog is about the intersection of PR and blogs. I already commented on his blog, and will provide a synopsis here: no matter what, this affects all PR professionals, including those looking at the intersection of PR and blogs. If we can't fully disclose with old media, how can the public trust PR with new media? It can't, and it shouldn't.
  • Robert French sticks his neck out, and sets an example for his students to follow. You can tell a man's character by his actions and his words, even if it could land him in hot water. Robert showed that he believes he needs to lead by actions, not just words.
  • Ben Silverman lends his usual snarky voice to the mix, but Ben brings something different to the table - a pretty newbie PR person, former journalist, former rabble-rousing DotComScoop blogger. The man's seen it all, has a twisted sense of humor, but raises a good point that maybe PR bloggers are afraid of the permanency of the blogging word.
The problem is that this is just one embarrassing issue to be brought up in the past year. Let's not forget Karen Ryan, Fleishman Hillard and LADWP, Fleishman being investigated for its work with the Drug Control Office. The whole shebang is here.

PR is changing, and its changing quickly because of citizen journalists, blogging, the new paradigm (and, yes, I read Kuhn's Scientific Revolution, so I have a right to say paradigm) to online communications and one-on-one communications ... well, the list goes on and on. But, PR is also changing because of less than honest actions with video news releases, paid consultants, satellite media tours ... well, the list goes on and on as well.

If we don't use the power of blogging to change the industry, what good is it to blog? Or, are we just blogging for self-gratification?

  1. Jeremy,

    I posted about this today here:

    Good job, by the way!

  2. Excellent commentary, Jeremy. Yes it is an issue for all involved in communication, not only PR, in my view.

    Yet I wonder what real difference any blogger discussion will make unless there is a lead taken by one of the professional associations.

    But I joined the throng with my 50 eurocents-worth of commentary earlier today:

    - Neville.

  3. I've written about the issue too.

    "Este tipo de escándalos son los que manchan la reputación del sector de las RRPP. No se puede comprar cobertura mediática positiva a favor de una empresa, un producto o una política.

    Si existe un acuerdo para que un líder de opinión apoye una causa determinada no es ético que se oculte dicha colaboración. Esto se puede ver en los códigos de ética de la PRSA y del IABC.

    La reacción en el sector no se ha hecho esperar.

    Es un hecho bochornozo".

    You can translate it via Google.

  4. Rosen's search skills leave much to be desired. He missed my post on this, Tom Murphy's and a great many others. Murphy has a nice roundup here.

  5. Thank you for your kind words, Jeremy.

    As others have offer up links to those discussing the troubling issues, too, I offer my appreciation and respect for their efforts, as well. Not saying that to stroke 'blegos' but to state true respect.

    This is the type of issue for which blogs are so well suited. We should, in my opinion, become even more vocal. We have nothing to lose, but our profession's reputation - future.

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