PRSA Pulls Publicity Stunt to Promote PR Ethics

Last Updated Sep 12, 2008 5:24 PM EDT

I was a little surprised to get an urgent email in my inbox from PRSA (of which I am a member) saying, "NO MORE LIPSTICK: PRSA Formally Challenges McCain and Obama Campaigns." What?!?

The email explained that the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the dominant trade organization of the profession, "has submitted formal challenges to the McCain and Obama campaigns to commit to the highest standards of ethical practice in every facet of their campaign communications."

The email noted that, sadly, "PRSA has yet to receive signed pledge forms back from the campaigns." However, the email noted, operators are standing by: PRSA "is responding to media interview requests as we continue to speak out publicly and vigorously on the issue." You won't be surprised to hear that PRSA issued a press release too.

Why the presidential campaigns, with all they have to do in the next 50+ days, would bother responding to a call from a PR trade association to adhere to the ambiguous "highest standards of ethical practice in campaign communications" is beyond me.
The trade association's pledge would bind the campaigns to (among other things) "be honest and accurate in all communications, act promptly to correct erroneous communications, investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented, and avoiding deceptive practices."
These are nice (if simplistic) ideas, actually, and I would imagine that both campaigns would say that to the best of their ability, they already do all this stuff. But for the association to butt into the Presidential campaign now, with an obvious publicity stunt... well, it just seems tacky and lame.
I know that PRSA actually means well. It means to call attention to ethical communications practices, particularly right now, because September is PRSA's "Ethics Month." Hence the publicity stunt to draw attention to the subject.

But someone should have told the leadership of this organization that this was a lame idea. Good publicity stunts are those that make you say, "aha -- good idea." Bad ones make you cringe -- like this one.


Update: reader JJ Franks emailed to say that this post inspired him to create the following comic strip:

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.