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PR Industry Shouldn’t do ANYTHING to Help Clients

November 13, 2010 Leave a comment Go to comments

I will not do ANYTHING to help my client. There I said it.

Those of us in the PR industry all (hopefully) agree that there are ethical lines in the sand that we as PR people shouldn’t cross, but there are a couple of gray areas that deserve discussion. When it comes to Reader’s Choice awards and (non-PR) industry surveys, PR’s job is to Promote not Vote.

Occasionally we see stories like PR firm got caught astroturfing the App Store, that remind us that making ‘false representation’ is not in our job description, yet ask a bunch of PR people if they think voting for clients is wrong and I bet you’ll hear answers like: ‘no, it isn’t wrong it’s PR’ or ‘I never really thought about it being wrong.’

PR People Not Eligible: Many of us in PR represent clients that sell products that we as PR people can not realistically test, use, or sometimes even completely understand (think B2B enterprise software). Yet, prevalent in these industries are opportunities like Reader Choice awards in which publication readers (and assumed product users) are asked to vote for their favorite products. Voting for your client is NOT part of PR’s job.
To clarify: Getting your client’s users and partners to vote is legit, but asking your PR colleagues to vote for the world’s best app server, most secure IDE or best open source SOA tool isn’t. See the difference?

PR People Need Not Apply: All of the above goes double for filling out surveys to promote a client’s point of view – especially if that survey will then be used by PR for media outreach. Many companies sponsor their own surveys as a way to get pitchable data and that is fine, but PR folks stuffing the ballot box to assure a favorable outcome it NOT YOUR JOB.
To clarify: Promoting the availability of an industry survey is cool, but voting 17 times and asking your co-workers and friends to vote is not. Get it?

Rules!? What Rules?: I’ve even heard PR people trying to justify this behavior by saying things like, ‘well the rules don’t say we can’t vote’ or ‘it doesn’t say you have to have use the product to be eligible.’ What? We shouldn’t need rules like this to know it is wrong. It is like having a sign in fancy restaurant that says ‘please chew with mouth closed’ or ‘no nose picking and flicking’. We shouldn’t need constant reminders about things that are so clearly wrong. We as an industry should know better.

Voting for your clients’ products is not in the job description – at least is shouldn’t be. This is not what we as PR people should be doing to help our clients. If you want to go outside your job description and beyond common sense to help your client…then make sales calls or help them make better products.

If the above sounds snarky and condescending then I’m probably not talking to you.

  1. November 15, 2010 at 8:09 pm

    Paul I agree with all of the above. I actually worked for a firm that participated frequently in this practice. Not only did they submit the client for entry to win the award, but they led the effort to get them named winner by asking staff to vote and some other clients to vote. It was astroturfing on a grand scale. And then if the client won, the firm would promote the hell out of the award recognition like it was a legitimate honor bestowed.

  2. November 18, 2010 at 4:00 am

    Paul – great post as always, and you’re taking on a topic I hope will serve as a good reminder to more than just a few of us. I know when you solicited feedback on Twitter the answer then, and I still think is worth mentioning now, is “sometimes” it still depends on the award. If, it is indeed an end user specific award where the nomination criteria requires hands-on use, then you’re right. If it’s a reader’s choice award and the assumption is you’re not just a reader but user, then again, you’re right. For PR folks to stuff the ballot boxes in either of those cases goes above and beyond the call of duty. It’s still worth considering what we all know the clients are asking, is this an award we should care about, and if so, how do we win. Calling out the vote with the constituencies that an award is ideally targeting (end users in the case of an end user award or end user readers for a reader’s choice award of IT pros) is absolutely the first and best choice and kudos for the slogan, “promote don’t vote.” Sadly though, you and I both know, that those you polled saying, “really, that’s wrong, I had no idea,” probably aren’t the ones reading your blog. But, they should be in my opinion.

    -Don J.

  3. zgrouppr
    November 18, 2010 at 11:25 pm

    Excellent points. I am fuming over an over-the-top request from a semi-client and it comes from the same place: Your job is to do whatever it takes to make the client happy. No, not really. Sometimes the job means saying no and sometimes the job means doing the hard work to win, versus stuffing the ballot box.

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