Circling The Wagons :: PR Firms Fear Revenue Loss, Thanks to Williams, Ketchum and others

OK, here is my post on the Ketchum/Williams/U.S. Dept. of Education/PRSA fiasco. It has been burning a hole in my ‘drafts’ section for a few days now.

These are my feelings on the topic. It is an important issue. It will affect my students. I should blog about it. The question is, how? You’ll have to determine if I blogged about it in the appropriate way. You can ask me why I waited, too. Although, I did post a bit about this before (11 days ago).

Firms may lose business thanks to the recent ‘pay for play’ scandal from Ketchum and Williams, among others. Gee, ya’ think? Millions in government contracts, that have made Washington, D.C. one of the meccas for PR firms, are hanging in the balance. Promised congressional hearings/probes are scaring people.

Now, my question is this. Why did it take the potential lose of money for firms to begin to rally against this easily identifiable improper practice? What does it say when only money prompts action? Is there any question as to why the PR profession has an image problem?

Still waiting to see a truly powerful statement from the PRSA. They are fairly silent . . . The association empowered to defend the profession is MIA.

Go to the association’s Web site ( and what do you see? Nada! Under press releases, nothing. In newsletter, nothing. Oh, they do have the 2001 Financial Statement up! Hmm? Log in as a member. What do you see? Nada!

The international association is failing us all.

Judith Phair, the President of PRSA did say this:

And, “in a rare rebuke, Judith T. Phair, the president and chief executive of the Public Relations Society of America for 2005, condemned the decision by Mr. Williams to, as she put it, promote the law ‘without revealing that his comments were paid for by a public relations agency under contract to the government,'” as Stuart Elliott wrote today in the New York Times. (Source: Maynard Institute)

Why does the Maynard Institute choose to say ‘rare rebuke’? Do they recognize a trend in PRSA’s representation of the industry?

By focusing on Williams alone, is Phair seeking to redirect blame to Armstrong Williams, but doesn’t mention Ketchum or Omnicom Group. Judith Phair, please come to class with me today, tomorrow or any day and explain to students of PR why you are not vocal on ‘all’ of this? Or, did I miss something. I searched the news and web before finally posting this tonight. I still don’t see anything solid.

    Update: In fairness, one group – the Council of Public Relations Firms has stepped up. On their Web site – front and center:

    We want to make sure that the Council’s position is clear: Payments to journalists for specific coverage (“pay for play”) is unacceptable.

    I would disagree with one comment by CPRF’s Kathy Cripps She said, in the NYTimes

    “Public relations needs to express total accuracy and truthfulness,” Ms. Cripps said. However, she added, referring to Mr. Williams, “it was the spokesperson’s responsibility to disclose the affiliation” rather than Ketchum’s.

    Ketchum had a responsibility, which they are now investigating and determining how to deal with later on, of following through and assuring that the person (Williams) they contracted to do the work would fully disclose his relationship and contractual obligations. Ketchum cannot be given a pass on this.

At least Ketchum has stepped up – a bit. They have made public announcements. One fairly pitiful PR Week op-ed piece. The most recent at least apologetic. (O’DwyerPR – Registration Required.)

Ketchum regrets ‘lapse in judgment’ in not encouraging disclosure in Armstrong Williams/Dept. of Education pact. Issues new policies for spokespeople, subcontractors and talks with legal counsel…

A commentary by Jack O’Dwyer raised fair questions: (Registration Required)

PRSA president Judith Phair, in her latest statement saying PRSA applauds the proposed Senate investigation of all government PR contracts, is trying to “take ownership” of the Armstrong Williams/Ketchum debacle, deflecting attention away from Ketchum, the “crown jewel” of the Society

Other articles?

Public relations firms that are paid millions of dollars a year by the federal government to promote programs and policies are worried the money might dry up because of the Armstrong Williams flap at the Department of Education.

A deluge of government business in recent years has helped make Washington a growing market for public relations firms. To protect that market, PR executives are voicing their objections to that kind of deal, in which the commentator was paid to tout Bush administration education policy in television and radio appearances. (Source: Washington Post – Registration Required)

As you see in a previous post, Jeremy has it right. See his post.

It isn’t right for me to be silent because I’ve asked my students to blog about this and I knew when I asked them to – I had to . . . no excuses. This issue is important to PR . . . to their education.

Now, for you to tell me if my statements/questions are justified, reasoned and rational. Have at it.

Update: Others have spoken up earlier – and didn’t get their just due – see the latest from Jeremy and the comments that ensued. Octavio Rojas is one. Sorry I missed that, Octavio.