Gini Dietrich

The PR Industry’s Performance-Enhancing Drugs

By: Gini Dietrich | May 23, 2011 | 
102

I was riding my bike yesterday, thinking about this whole Lance Armstrong case getting stronger, and it occurred to me that athletes aren’t any different than PR professionals.

A couple of weeks ago, when the Burson Marsteller/Facebook story broke, many, many, many people called me naive. They stated examples where PR professionals create whisper or smear campaigns. The statement, more often than not while calling me naive was, “It happens all the time.”

It happens all the time.

I refuse to believe Lance has remained so staunch in his innocence for so long and he really is guilty. I refuse to believe this man, who is a cycling hero to me, really did use performance-enhancing drugs. When former teammates have come out and said they saw him inject drugs, I refused to believe it.

We all need heroes and Lance is mine.

Sure, I get that he’s not a nice guy, but watching him race is one of the most amazing things a cyclist can see. It’s inspiring and motivating. He’s a real hero.

And, apparently, he does drugs. Just like Barry Bonds and George Hincappie. Even the Bulls’ Derrick Rose has been accused.

It happens all the time.

But does it make it right?

A few years ago, I got into a debate with the CEO of one of the large PR firm/ad agency holding companies. He said our jobs, as PR professionals, is to tell the story for the client, any way that gets it into the news. I believe he even used the word “spin,” which really got me going.

The vision of Spin Sucks, and now Spin Sucks Pro, is a big one. It’s to change the perception of our industry. It’s to change this idea that we’re spin doctors and show that we’re ethical human beings who don’t lie or spin the truth to get attention for our internal or external clients.

I realize we’re small and we’re fighting the global conglomerates who believe in whisper or smear campaigns, just like the athletes who do drugs. It gives us all a level playing field if we all do it, right?

Just because everyone decides to jump off the top of the Sears Tower, does that mean you should too?

It has to start somewhere.

I wish we had a grand jury in Los Angeles to call in leaders of PR firms and make them testify under oath. I wish there were a body that regulated our industry and forced us to uphold the ethics that PRSA outlines for its members.

But we don’t.

So what are we going to do about the performance-enhancing “drugs” in our industry?

About Gini Dietrich


Gini Dietrich is the founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, an integrated marketing communications firm. She is the author of Spin Sucks, co-author of Marketing in the Round, and co-host of Inside PR. She also is the lead blogger at Spin Sucks and is the founder of Spin Sucks Pro.

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102 Comments on "The PR Industry’s Performance-Enhancing Drugs"

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KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 5 days ago

I love this. Once we buy into the “but everyone else is doing it” mentality, we’ve lost the game. Why is it so hard for us to accept the concept that there might actually be right and wrong?

And by the way, my parents used to use the Sears Tower (or something like it) analogy on me. Are you my mother??

johnjustic
johnjustic
5 years 5 days ago
Gini, I couldn’t agree more. Hearing the word “spin” really just makes my ears cringe. I personally think it begins with educating younger people about the profession. Most people have no clue what a pr person does and they have only heard the term “spin doctor” mentioned in a movie or television so thats the only correlation they have. Perhaps an awareness campaign is necessary from PRSA or anyone(Arment Dietrich?). You never hear young people say I wanna work in pr when I’m older, it’s usually a lawyer, architect, engineer etc. So I think educating people about the profession is… Read more »
johnfalchetto
5 years 5 days ago
Gini, I think mismanaged expectations from clients, or in athletes case like Lance sponsors ruin it. The “yes we can’ attitude is great but sometimes we just have to say “no, perhaps this is not the best route’. We expect athletes to be at the top of their game every Sunday or in Lance’s case everyday for three weeks on the Tour, sorry our bodies aren’t designed for this. I don’t care how much training you do. You are right though we all need heroes and this is probably the source of the problem. Lance isn’t a hero, he is… Read more »
KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 5 days ago

@johnfalchetto this is why we see this in sports so much. pressure to win. but like you said, it comes down to one simple phrase: Just Say No. We need to stand up and say, “ya know, i can go the easy way to win, or I can choose the right way, knowing that I might not win…but it’s still the right way.”

EricaAllison
5 years 5 days ago

@KenMueller my mom always said “if you’re friends said to go jump off a bridge, would you do it? ” We’re in the South…no towers! Still applies, though!

KenMueller
KenMueller
5 years 5 days ago

@EricaAllison yeah, that’s basically what my parents said. That, and when I would say “everyone else’s parents are letting the do it”…they would respond, “well we’re not everyone else’s parents, we’re your parents!” Maybe we need more moms in the PR world. Maybe Lance needs a good butt-whippin’ from his mom.

EricaAllison
5 years 5 days ago

Yuck, yuck and yuck. Truly discouraging because what should be a level playing field (‘scuse the pun) in sports and in business, often times is not. So, how do you rise above that? How do you compete? You’re doing it now. You set yourself apart and you deliver results based on that. That doesn’t get you in the Tour de France, but it gets you solid results. The real way to change it? Stop looking for heroes. Look for leaders.

EricaAllison
5 years 5 days ago

@KenMueller Ha! Too true. I just echoed those words this weekend to my son…he’s 8 and wants to stay up until 9pm. “But Mah-am, everyone else in class gets to stay up that late.” I told him that’s great for them, but not for us. Now, go to bed. 🙂

BestRoofer
BestRoofer
5 years 5 days ago

I think that the problem crosses all industries. We have unscrupulous people in our field as well. Basically it comes down to what kind of person are you. Will you do the right thing or will you succumb to what other idiots are doing?

T60Productions
5 years 5 days ago

Hi Gini… I think you’re doing exactly the right thing… setting an example for others to follow and building your own community. There will probably always be people/companies out there willing to do anything to get ahead, we just need to swing the balance of power over to our side.

We’re onboard with you. Step one for us… helping produce quality content that tells a positive and truthful story.

–Tony Gnau

commammo
commammo
5 years 5 days ago
Hey Gini – yep, yep, and yep. I can imagine the conversations in agency conference rooms: “This is counter to the professional ethics we aspire to, and against my personal ethics. It confirms the worst of our industry.” — “Yes, but we need the revenue; if we don’t do it someone else will, and we’ll risk losing the relationship.” It’s a casual kind of breach — a gloss or slide — that sends us tumbling over the edge. It’s a false flag on a discussion board, a failure to disclose, an opinion that it’s “not illegal…” Feh. We need an… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 days ago
Tough discussion Gini. I choose ethics over money. My industry Advertising steals Brands blind. I’m PR and every Industry rips off someone or some entity. Think that most rational Ad People will agree at least 50% of Ad Spend is wasted. And they hide behind all sorts of mumbo jumbo to pretend half of $100bil should not be given back to Brands every year and they block ways to measure and they jump on hype to make cash. Their by line is ‘50% of Ad Spend is Wasted. The problem is figuring out which half’ Which is really saying ‘Hahahaha… Read more »
HowieSPM
HowieSPM
5 years 5 days ago

@EricaAllison If your stealing or doing unethical practices you are a house of cards. If a client finds out you are a fraud you are toast, If you are genuine and work hard and the client knows that and things don’t go well you aren’t toast.

MimiMeredith
5 years 5 days ago
Gini, I don’t believe you’re naive because you choose to believe the best about someone. And honestly, who among us really knows Lance Armstrong? Here’s the thing about finding a way to reinforce standards and Integrity compliance (wouldn’t that be a great job…Hello, I’m the Integrity Compliance Officer!) among practitioners…there will still be people that skirt the system, while we’ve just created another board. I think real hope lies in people like you doing just what you’re doing. There are a lot of outstanding communicators in the PR industry. By focusing on them and how their practices succeed, you give… Read more »
KensViews
5 years 5 days ago

Call ME naive, but I’m always surprised that some PR “professionals” still don’t get it re: the ethical practice of PR The good news is that I do believe they’re in the minority (Please tell me I’m not being naive about that). The bad news is that when these things happen, it tends to put the entire industry in a bad light.

JohnLeavy
JohnLeavy
5 years 5 days ago

Lance…say it ain’t so….it’s sad to see the Federal Government involved in this story…not because that says Lance is guilty…but because they’re so inept. I’m sick of these Tour da Losers…supposedly coming forward for “truths” sake. Where was truth as they lied to the press on multiple occasions? Do they hope to clear their consciences by implicating others? Take your own medicine “the consequences of your own actions”, sell your bikes and shut up. Sorry for the rant so early on a Monday.

WGB2U
WGB2U
5 years 5 days ago
Gini, This is a post that resonates with several industries and my admiration is great that you and your company are swimming against the tide. I feel your passion and it actually gets my heart rate up. Conviction and commitment will the difference! As the bar is raised, others will strive to reach it and that’s when the performance-enhancing “drugs” will no longer hold power. They will simply be looked upon in disgust and people will say, “Next” looking for the real gold! There has been a long-time trend of dumb-ing down; selling out; and lowering every bar imaginable. We… Read more »
MimiMeredith
5 years 5 days ago

@KensViews You’re not being naive about that!

punchakpr
punchakpr
5 years 5 days ago

I’ve been trying to wrap my head around what happens to PR companies who do this. Technically it’s libel or slander which are, of course, illegal. But legal action isn’t always taken. It’s concerning that this can happen multiple times seemingly without consequence.

I’ve never seen what happens within a PR company when this happen, and I’m curious – what are the consequences? Does the company itself handle its own situation? Does a third party get involved?

MimiMeredith
5 years 5 days ago

@JohnLeavy Wish you’d been watching 60 Minutes with us, John!

Soulati
Soulati
5 years 5 days ago
I wasn’t going to comment until your last sentence; then I got lured in. Your “drugs” and my “condoms” from Saturday’s post (About Condoms & Social Media) and I’m leaving a link b/c it’s highly relevant to this discussion (http://soulati.com/blog/condoms-and-social-media) is all about character. @johnakerson wrote an incredible comment on my post referenced above. Drugs and condoms are merely tools that need to be imbibed, used by the humanoid. Said individual who elects to do so will indeed suffer the consequence and rightly so. It seems, to your point, of having Lance as a cyclists’ role model that we (the… Read more »
Soulati
Soulati
5 years 5 days ago

Hi, Ken…we’ve been fighting the good fight for PR awhile on our blogs and not truly gaining much traction except to support one another and uphold our own values. We are the little guys who seem to have more ethical backbone than those needing to make a bottom line resonate for all the world to see. @KensViews

Soulati
Soulati
5 years 5 days ago

Yeah, and pretty soon it’ll be the cell phone topic; cuz mine’s 9 and I had to nip that in the bud asap. @EricaAllison @KenMueller

jackielamp
jackielamp
5 years 5 days ago
I’ve been thinking about this topic a lot lately. What bothers me the most is that unethical PR practices (smear campaigns, etc.) occur more than any of us would like to believe, and although it doesn’t make it right (in my opinion), it still can work. Often times it achieves the desired effect. And maybe we can recognize it because we’re in the PR industry, but can the general public figure it out? (Unless of course word gets out like BM/Facebook) So, it can be somewhat of a catch 22. But that sucks. I guess I’ll go with your “I… Read more »
janbeery
janbeery
5 years 5 days ago

Unfortunately, I think the best we can do is to not compromise our own integrity and be consistent in our ethics.

It always saddens us when we see someone who we admire fall from grace. Or seeing a smear campaign targeting someone else.

I don’t think in an imperfect world we’ll ever see that go away. Sadly, we do the best we can and control and manage what we have the power and authority to oversee.

jeffespo
5 years 5 days ago

As with everything cheating and half-withs tend to ruin things for all of us. My good buddy @KeithTrivitt has been railing on this for a while now on behalf of the PRSA. Problem with their code of ethics is that not every PR pro needs to be a member so may not subscribe to those things you call ethics. Would you look to force all flacks to be members?

MikeLee
MikeLee
5 years 5 days ago

We do have those that will call PR pros to task. They are called journalists. Not content producers, but the good ole’ 4th estate.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@KenMueller I maintain that just because everyone is doing it does not make it right mentality. It’s hard for kids to understand that, but these are adults. Jeez.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@johnjustic I wonder if the digital world will begin to encourage young professionals to think about PR as an industry? It’s hard because you have reality shows and Mad Men portraying PR as either attending parties with celebrities or creating fights in grocery store aisles. You’re right … no one strives to want to do that.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@johnfalchetto Did you happen to see geoffliving blog post about this yesterday? It’s exactly what he talks about – we need to stop putting people on pedestals.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@HowieSPM @EricaAllison The good guys always finish last. But they usually leave the best impression.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@BestRoofer I totally agree there are unprofessionals in every industry. I don’t like it. The older I get, the more it bothers me.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@T60Productions And work with companies and partners who are doing the same. Surround yourself with people you’re proud to call friends.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@commammo Sean, you’re so right! It’s hard for me to understand those conversations, but I know they happen. My friend thornley does a nice job with his team. When it’s a client prospect that doesn’t fit their values, he brings it to the team and allows them to weigh in. Then they all agree it’s not a fit.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@HowieSPM As my brother is teaching his kids… “Cheaters never win and winners never cheat.”

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@MimiMeredith And yet he’s taught you how to debate! 🙂 I know you’re right. I just feel like I’m a broken record. There are many of us who are fighting the good fight. It’s frustrating when one bad apple spoils the entire industry.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@Soulati @KensViews But we won’t be the little guys for long!

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@JohnLeavy Or maybe they’re looking for book deals? I don’t know, but I know that when you begin to testify under oath, you’re likely no longer lying.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@WGB2U Elena, it’s SO FUNNY you say this because we have internal debate all the time about reaching the masses with this blog and for me to, just every once in a while, write a dumbed-down post. I refuse to do it. Refuse. It’s the only way, like you say, we’re going to draw the line.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@punchakpr That’s the thing, Whitney. There are no consequences. So why would they stop? Think about it this way…if Facebook came to you and said, “We have a $10MM budget and we’d like to hire you!”, what would you say? But what if they said, We have a $10MM budget and we’d like to hire you! Oh, and BTW, we need you to lie about our competition. But we’ll give you $5MM upfront to do it.”

Money does evil things to people.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@MikeLee Sure, and that’s what happened in the BM case. But what are the real consequences? It’s doubtful that anything bad really will happen.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago
@jeffespo @KeithTrivitt Keith and I have this debate all the time and I’ve become super educated on the role PRSA plays in our industry. I would LOVE to see BM and other agencies in Silicon Valley and DC called before a grand jury to discuss their ethics. But the fact of the matter is that it’s not going to happen. We don’t have a regulatory board nor do we have to take any tests or get certified in order to do our jobs. So the bad ethics run amok while the rest of us fight the good fight. Not to… Read more »
ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@janbeery Perhaps the imperfect people will not be raptured then! Bahahaha! I couldn’t resist one more jab. 🙂

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@jackielamp It might be naive, but I’m right there with you! And we’ll look awesome in our shoes.

ginidietrich
ginidietrich
5 years 5 days ago

@Soulati And in this world of transparency and authenticity, trust and character are even more important. As my mom always says, “Remember who you are and what you stand for.”

KensViews
5 years 5 days ago

I learned much about ethics in PR when I worked for Jean Way Schoonover, and her sister Barbara Way Hunter, at D-A-Y Public Relations and Ogilvy & Mather PR. I hope it’s OK to share my tribute to Jean, who passed away in April. PRSA just posted it: http://bit.ly/m9GYB0

KensViews
5 years 5 days ago

@ginidietrich @Soulati When it comes to ethics, PR agency size doesn’t matter. And Gini would want me to tell you I don’t own a PR agency; I’m a consultant/trainer/coach and PR firms are my clients.

PattiRoseKnight
PattiRoseKnight
5 years 5 days ago

In 1977 I had to admit to myself that Elvis Presley took drugs (with the help of Geraldo Rivera); everyone after that got a little easier.

jackielamp
jackielamp
5 years 5 days ago

@ginidietrich That’s true…if we’re going to be naive, at least we’ll have our cute shoes on 😉

rustyspeidel
rustyspeidel
5 years 5 days ago

I think it’s really hard to compete against unethical players. They don’t care if they cheat, only if they win. Sadly, that’s such a slippery slope and soon enough the clients are expecting that “level of service.” I think the only way to make this work is to fire clients like that, and make sure as part of the interview process with prospective clients that transparency and ethics are a core value that you share. If you can get there, don’t take the gig. If the money is that important, well…

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