|March 11, 2008|
|'We hired a PR firm, shhhhhhhhhhhhhhh'|
|By Greg Hazley|
|Airborne, the marketing savvy herbal supplement maker, is in damage control mode after agreeing to pony up more than $23M to settle a class action suit over its marketing efforts.|
The suit was brought by the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a non-profit, and the deal has Airborne paying for ads in magazines like Better Homes & Gardens, Parade, People, Newsweek, and many other magazines and newspapers instructing consumers how to get refunds.
When I contacted Airborne’s advertising and PR agency, Ten United, last Thursday I was given a number to call at the company itself. I called and was met with a nameless voice mail box, so I left a detailed message that I was looking to speak with someone or get a statement about the settlement. A company staffer called me back shortly after that (apparently ignoring my message or never having heard it) to find out what I wanted. I repeated what I said in my message. She assured me someone would get back to me.
A half hour or so later, a woman called me back to dictate a statement, which, I was told, was to be attributed to a spokesperson for Airborne. She read the statement and I wrote it down.
When I asked if she was with the company or an outside PR firm, she replied, “Yeah, we’ve worked with Airborne for a little bit now.” I followed by asking if she was with Ten United, Airborne’s agency, and she said no.
Me: Which firm?
Her: This is not for your story, correct?
Me: We cover the PR industry, so it would be helpful to mention that.
Her: Oh, okay. Well, if the story is about the settlement, we’d prefer that it stays to that but I can see if the company would like our name disclosed. As of now we’ll keep it to “a spokesperson.”
I asked her “off the record” what the name of her firm was, fully realizing the absurdity that I was talking to a anonymous firm that was speaking for a high-profile company on the record regarding a significant legal settlement. She told me her firm’s name, reiterating that it was off the record.
I didn’t argue. I never heard back about whether it was okay to name the firm, so I won’t. But I also didn’t write a story about the settlement or mention her statement. If the PR firm wouldn’t identify itself, I don’t see the point in writing about it.
We regularly call up companies that get a lot of ink, are embroiled in a crisis, or are featured in a particularly prominent manner to see if they are using outside PR counsel or to hear about how their own people are handling communications. It’s amazing how many companies won’t comment.
The question here is, what’s the big deal about saying you hired a PR agency? If it’s embarrassing, PR has a bigger image problem than it realizes. If it’s competitive advantage, I don’t see it. If it's something else, I'd love to hear it.
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