By Claire Thompson, freelance PR and social media consultant, Waves PR
PR company Bell Pottinger is again under the spotlight, along with lobbying, and will probably remain so for a while. (For anyone who hasn’t seen the story, Stuart Bruce pulled together a great Storify timeline yesterday.)
Like Burson Marsteller before it with its Facebook/Google story scandal, Bell Pottinger will be squirming uncomfortably, but, like Burson Marsteller, Bell Pottinger is already taking on difficult, often unethical clients, and this kind of publicity will encourage more of the same kinds of clients.
And like Burson Marsteller, it will probably revel in the publicity for what it’s doing, and even use it to build it’s crisis management practise as its name becomes associated with the word crisis, and all those linking to it inadvertently help push it up the search engine rankings. And it’s certainly flushed out that the company has friends in high places within the establishment, making it attractive to more of the same.
Bell Pottinger’s latest ‘sin’ has been to use Wikipedia (Article in Independent, Thursday December 8, 2011), and some of the things it’s ‘accused’ of doing online leave me uncomfortable. I’m hoping that it might spark a sensible debate here around what is, and what isn’t acceptable. Now I’ll stick my hand up and say I’ve done some cackhanded things online before now, and I’ve been called on them, and I’ve apologised. The spotlight was uncomfortable, and hand on heart I’ve always tried to remain ethical whilst serving my clients the best way I can.
But ethics are a tough subject (see the open v copyright debate), and the Independent’s Wikipedia editing article highlights just that. Bell Pottinger tried to put a comment from a client The Prostate Centre on a cancer related page. Without seeing the comment, my initial thought was that if I had prostate cancer, I might be pleased to see that information. Adding Professor Roger Kirby as an expert? If he’s a professor and has genuine credentials in his field, I would have thought that was fair.