Contact O'Dwyer's : 271 Madison Ave., #600, New York, NY 10016; Tel: 212/679-2471; Fax: 212/683-2750
ODWYERPR.COM > Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter return to main page

Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter
Jack O'Dwyer's Newsletter
The eight page weekly is the only PR newsletter on LEXIS/NEXIS.
Subscribe today


Jack O'Dwyer's NL logo
Internet Edition, Jan. 26, 2005, Page 1

Ketchum said it regrets what the firm sees as a "lapse in judgment" regarding disclosure of the contract it worked out between the Dept. of Education and commentator Armstrong Williams.

In a statement distributed to the media on Jan. 18, Ketchum said paying Williams to promote the controversial No Child Left Behind Act did not comply with the firm's business ethics code or the guidelines of the PR industry.

Even prior to the Williams imbroglio, the firm had a "code of business ethics" in place, which each staffer was asked to sign upon joining the firm.

Ketchum said it "would never encourage this type of behavior" associated with the Williams contract and should have recognized potential issues in working with his PR firm, adding the conservative commentator should have disclosed his relationship with the Dept. of Education.

The Omnicom unit said it is putting a new policy in place for signing and authorizing contracts with spokespeople and has underscored its guidelines in internal firm communications for how PR staffers should represent client work to the media.

Ketchum has also set up a phone line for staff to call with questions and is developing a new process to require subcontractors to abide by the firm's own ethical standards.

The firm also revealed it has talked with external legal counsel to investigate the facts of the contract.

Michael Roth, who was named chairman of Interpublic in July, has taken the CEO reins from David Bell, who becomes co-chairman.

Roth is a lawyer by training and had headed The Mony Group. He believes his lack of agency experience will be a plus.

"It's good to take an outsider's view once in a while," Roth told The New York Times. "You re not inbred."

Roth will concentrate on engineering IPG's financial turnaround, while Bell focuses on client work.

Al-Jazeera, the Arab satellite TV network, is looking to hire a PR firm in a bid to overcome the perception that it supports terrorism and insurgents in Iraq. The broadcaster plans to launch an English-language cable public affairs program in the U.S.

A lawsuit against Fleishman-Hillard and its former Los Angeles office head Doug Dowie should be moved out of L.A. County, a Superior Court judge ruled on Jan. 19, scoring a victory for the firm and PR exec whose lawyers argued they couldn t get a fair trial in the city.

The city's daily papers have devoted considerable coverage to overbilling charges leveled against F-H by City Controller Laura Chick, especially as a mayoral race has heated up and the F-H name is bandied about on a daily basis among candidates and their various supporters.

Judge Mary Thornton House agreed with F-H's argument noting extensive news coverage, the fact that city residents (inevitably jurors) are customers of the Dept. of Water and Power which the firm is accused of overbilling, and that F-H is based in St. Louis with less than two percent of its total revenue coming from L.A.

F-H has said it cannot substantiate $652K in billings questioned by the controller, a figure far less than the $4.2M Chick has accused the firm of overbilling.

Former F-H exec John Stodder was indicted last week on 11 counts of fraud charges.

The firm has renewed its offer to settle the matter in mediation, a gesture which was not answered previously by the city.

Attorneys for F-H and Dowie have requested a trial be moved to Ventura County, but House had not decided on a locale by press time. Dowie's attorney has called the charges against him "frivolous" and has demanded they be dropped.


PRSA president Judith Phair said she will be guided by the chapters on the issue of decoupling the national board from the APR requirement.

Phair, in a 20-minute interview with this NL Jan. 21, said neither she nor the board will take a leadership role on dropping the 32-year rule that bars non-APRs from holding national office.

She said the board is considering an Assembly teleconference followed by fax voting which would be legal under New York State rules that bar associations from passing bylaws via phone.
(story contines on page seven)

Internet Edition, Jan. 26, 2005, Page 2

Frustration is growing among journalists over limited access time to sources by overzealous PR pros, editors of four top women's magazines told an Entertainment Publicists Professional Society crowd of about 110 at Thirteen/WNET in New York on Thursday.

"Access time is shrinking," Sarah Bailey, deputy editor-in-chief of Harper's Bazzar, said of celebrity interviews being curbed by publicists. "It's depressing that a standard interview these days is an hour."

Bailey pointed out restrictions put the onus on the writer, who is forced to reach back to previous interviews and add "warmed over" material to a story.

David Carr, who covers the magazine beat for The New York Times, but is "switching up" to become a general culture reporter, said a reason he made the switch to writing for newspapers was because the "level of what can and cannot be asked is shrinking and it began to make me sick."

Carr, who moderated the sold-out event, said restrictions are often over the top to the point of PR pros becoming overprotective and wanting to "sit in the lap" during interviews.

Sue Weiner, celebrity editor for InTouch Weekly, said restrictions by publicists often aren t warranted or necessary. She said writers often end up spending much more time with a subject when a PR person originally said the interview would have to be an hour. "A publicist will say don t ask this question, but then the celebrity will bring it up," she said of reps being out of tune with their clients.

"The precious resource we have is column inches," said Carr, "but the precious resource you have as publicists is celebrities time."

Jessica Blatt, entertainment editor for Cosmo Girl and former editor for Food and Wine, did note that the mission of a magazine is different in this sense than that of a newspaper because there's more of a mutual interest in the story being somewhat positive. "Why spend tens of thousands of dollars in photography on a person?" she asked rhetorically, calling it more of a "collaboration."

Responding to an audience question, Carr noted a high correlation between "who advertises and who shows up" in many magazines. "It's almost one for one, quid pro quo," he said.

Bailey of Harper's Bazaar said the most successful pitch is when a client is made available and open to something interesting. She prefers face-to-face meetings, rather than e-mail or phone pitches. "We can have a conversation and it's in those conversations, it's only out of a meeting of minds and needs and agenda, where things can happen," said the recently transplanted U.K. native.

Bailey noted the U.S. is "more heated" than the U.K., where she sees more of a sense of openness. Carr added that in a recent trip to London for an interview, a company's PR representative greeted him, introduced him to the executive he was to interview, said "Brilliant, carry on then," and left Carr to conduct the interview one-on-one.

Pentagon spokesperson Lawrence DiRita issued a statement on Jan. 17 blasting investigative reporter Seymour Hersh's story about the Bush Administration's plans to invade Iran.

Hersh contends that U.S. commandos are currently operating in Iran, scouting targets and looking for weapons of mass destruction sites.

A Pentagon source told Hersh that Iran is part of a "global free-fire zone," and that invasion will be pitched as a key element in President Bush's "war on terror."

DiRita says Hersh's New Yorker article is "riddled with errors of fundamental fact" that destroys its credibility.

Hersh's sources fed him "rumor, innuendo and assertions about meetings that never happened, programs that do not exist, and statements by officials that were never made," according to DiRita.

The Pentagon spokesperson, however, did not refute the basis of Hersh's argument that U.S. special forces are operating in Iran.

Said DiRita: "The Iranian regime's apparent nuclear ambitions and its demonstrated support for terrorist organization is a global challenge that deserves much more serious treatment" than Hersh's article.

Landis Communications has picked up online customized merchandise portal, following a review that began early last fall. LC is believed to have been among three finalists for the account. Merritt Group PR has most recently handled PR work for the company and GolinHarris worked on the account two years back.

CafePress, which has earned ink for marketing popular custom products like "Free Martha" t-shirts drew considerable media attention for its various political offerings during the presidential campaign, from "I Love Bush" shirts for people and pets to stickers noting: "Somewhere in Texas, a village is missing its idiot."

The San Leandro, Calif.-based company has been a profitable dot-com for four years and claims a network of two millions members, noted David Landis, president of San Francisco-based LC. Major accounts for CafePress include Dilbert, the ASPCA and This Old House.

"We told them that they are the new Faith Popcorn, that they could be the new arbiter of pop culture," he told O'Dwyer's of LC's pitch to the company.

Jennifer Parson, A/S, and senior A/E Tami Iskovics head the account, with oversight by Landis.

Jamie Dettmer, a veteran journalist, has joined The Cato Institute as director of media relations.
He is charged with boosting Cato's influence and media footprint in key public policy debates, such as Social Security reform and foreign affairs.

Recently, Michael Tanner, director of Cato's "Project on Social Security Choice," wrote a report advocating changing Social Security from a "pay-as-you-go" system to one based on savings and investment.

Cato also published a book, "Exiting Iraq: Why the U.S. Must End the Military Occupation and Renew the War against Al Qaeda.

The Washington, D.C.-based Institute says it is committed to "individual liberty, limited government, free markets and peace."

Dettmer joins from the New York Sun, where he covered the presidential race.

He also worked at The Times of London, Sunday Telegraph, Bonnier Media Group, Washington Times and the BBC.

Dettmer says he signed on at Cato because it is a "think tank that actually thinks."

Internet Edition, Jan. 26, 2005, Page 3


Almost every conceivable industry is practicing "giveaway marketing," according to a report by Donald Weddle that ran in the Jan. 16 edition of The Los Angeles Times.

Kelly McBride, ethics group leader at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla., said the rise of swag culture is no accident.

"Corporations are spending a higher percentage of their annual budgets on marketing, and larger portions of those budgets are directed specifically at journalists, because marketing executives realize that ink on any given product is better than advertising," she told Weddle.

"It's much more effective to create the elusive buzz about a product that everyone's after," she said.

Susie Dobson of the L.A. firm Susie Dobson Global PR told Weddle that when she holds an event, magazine editors call to ask her if there is going to be a gift bag.

Anne Rokahr, director of Red PR in New York, said a magazine writer offered to promote her clients products on a TV morning show if Rokahr would pay her.

Kim Marshall, who runs a PR firm, the Marshall Plan, which organizes "press trips" for luxury resorts, said she expects at least half of the writers on a trip to get stories into print. Those who don t are not invited on her next trip, she said.

"Ethicists argue that the proliferation of swag has undercut the integrity of the press, blurred the lines between advertising and editorial and encouraged some publications to mislead their readership," said Weddle.

Jeffrey Seglin, an associate professor at Emerson College in Boston, who writes a weekly column on ethics for The New York Times, said publications should disclose their policies on freebies in the table of contents or masthead.


The International Health, Racquet & Sportsclub Assn, a non-profit group headquartered in Boston, which represents more than 6,500 fitness clubs worldwide, will begin publishing Get Active! magazine in May 2005.

The bimonthly magazine will offer articles and advice on exercise programs, nutrition, and beauty tips, as well as ways for readers to reduce stress and live happier, healthier lives in general.

The magazine, which will target more than 15 million fitness enthusiasts, will be distributed for free at more than 1,000 gyms throughout the U.S. Initial circulation will be 400,000 copies.

Basic Media Group, the Los Angeles-based custom publisher that specializes in health-related magazines, will publish the Get Active! for IHRSA.

Ketchum's San Francisco office, which handles PR for IHRSA, is also handling Get Active America!, the health club industry's national, month-long health promotion campaign in May.

Publicists can get a media kit containing information about the magazine from Matt Redd at 603/672-5545, ext. 205.


Mark Spellun, editor-in-chief and publisher of Plenty, believes his new magazine is "on the cusp of a global revolution of green, eco-friendly products and services."

Plenty's second issue continues to highlight some of the up-and-coming trend setters, technologies and lifestyle choices for eco-conscious consumers.

Publicists are urged to pitch managing editor Sarah Rose information pertaining to a range of topics including technology, policy, food, home decor, architecture, cars, clothing, outdoor recreation, and leisure activities.

Rose can be reached at 212/757-3447 or e-mail: [email protected].

The magazine's offices are located in New York at 250 W. 57th st., suite 1915.


Hachette Filipacchi Media will publish a test issue of a new home magazine themed around author/designer Chris Madden in May.

A total of 400,000 copies of the first issue will be available on newsstands, and J.C. Penney, which sells the Chris Madden furniture collection, will make an additional 50,000 copies available.

The how-to magazine will be called "Chris Madden at Home," or "At Home with Chris Madden."

Separately, the publisher will move For Me, its new, low-cost title which was published as a test issue in November, to a monthly frequency starting with its May issue.

The has begun a new Spanish-language edition with a comprehensive overview of automobiles and the auto industry. will offer news, reviews, buying guides, weekly tips, complete auto show coverage, and more.

The Miami-based site is published and edited by Greg Sanchez, who can be reached at 880/401-4071.

Conde Nast's has begun a separate website devoted solely to men's fashion and lifestyle. will feature fashion, gear and entertainment news, a buyer's guide, features on fashion trends and pop culture and coverage of the men's runway shows in Milan, Paris and New York.
Jamie Pallot, who currently edits, will edit the men's site.

DM News has opened a new online Video Center, which features sponsored paid for profiles, breaking news and analysis.

Tad Clarke, editor-in-chief of DM News said "DM News Interviews the New Leaders" will highlight the marketers and suppliers who are creating new technologies and business models and "reinventing the business."

Video webcasts will be offered free and will be supported by sponsorship dollars and paid supplier profiles, a model similar to the one being used by several other media outlets such as, and

(Media news continued on next page)

Internet Edition, Jan. 26, 2005, Page 4


Jessica Hodgson will join Dow Jones Newswires in March as media correspondent for the United Kingdom, and Michael Wang as new senior mergers and acquisitions reporter for Europe.

Hodgson, 33, who is currently media and retail correspondent at the U.K. Sunday newspaper, The Business, will replace Ben Winkley, who left the company.

London-based Wang, 42, starts in his new position immediately, succeeding Jack Grone, who is leaving DJN after nearly nine years to take a career break.

Since 2002, Wang was assistant news editor responsible for coverage of energy and resource stocks across Europe, Middle East and Africa.


Ginger Conlon has joined Peppers & Rogers, a management consulting firm in Norwalk, Conn., as editor-in-chief of 1to1 Magazine, as well as several online publications.

Conlon was previously editor of CRM magazine, and managing editor of Sales and Marketing Management magazine, where she also was technology editor and web supervisor.

The magazine, which provide readers with a mix of strategy and hands-on tactics, reaches more than 200,000 business executives each month.

Wilbert Rideau, a self-taught prison journalist, is a free man after serving 44 years of a life sentence for killing a bank teller in 1961.

He was found not guilty of murder in his fourth trial for the killing on Jan. 15. The jury convicted him of manslaughter, which carries a maximum sentence of 21 years, effectively freeing him.

Rideau, 63, was editor of The Angolite, an award-winning magazine he started for inmates in the Angola, La., prison.

Rideau, who began his journalism career in prison as a news clipper, would like to continue as a journalist.

Dan Colarusso, previously deputy business editor, was promoted to business editor of The New York Post. He replaces Jon Elson, now the media and marketing editor at The New York Times.

Marjorie Williams, 47, a syndicated columnist for The Washington Post who wrote profiles on Washington, D.C.'s most powerful people, died Jan. 16. Her husband, Timothy Noah, is a writer for

Brian Moran, formerly the editor of Mediaweek, was recently named managing editor of Sync.

Jenny Feldman was promoted to fashion news editor at Elle, replacing Nicole Phelps, now at

Mark Coleman, previously the news editor at In Touch Weekly, was appointed news director at Star Weekly magazine.

Scott Petersen, who was news editor, was promoted to editor of eWeek, a business technology magazine.

Peter Morrice, previously executive editor at Golf magazine, recently joined Golf Digest as senior editor.

Kimberly Quinn, 34, was promoted to director of communications of Business Week.

Morris Reid, a frequent guest on news talk shows and managing director of Westin Rinehart, a Washington, D.C. and New York-based PR firm, said the crisis engulfing Armstrong Williams is just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

"Everyday, I and hundreds of pundits fill the airwaves commenting on or debating important issues, but do we all disclose who we are really championing? Should we?"

The former Clinton administration official believes times are changing and pundits need to beware.

"Politics is plain and simple: left, right or center. But within those categories lies many levels of issues and agendas. More often than not those issues are privately funded or pushed by lobbyists seeking to influence the public," he said.

The pundits championing those issues should fully disclose their agendas and or financial supporters, said Reid.


Plesser Holland Assocs., a New York-based PR firm, will hold a two-day conference next month for corporate communications executives to look at how a changed news distribution universe is shaping corporate reputation and public attitudes.

Andy Plesser said Impact ‘05, which will be held in Vieques, P.R., March 4-5, will examine the impact of new and emerging information platforms including video news on demand, mass text messaging, TiVo, social networking, blogs, 3-G phones and direct satellite.

Speakers include Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications, Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth; Jason Pontin, editor-in-chief, Technology Review; Shoba Purushothaman, CEO/president of The NewsMarket, and Joe Trippi, MSNBC commentator and former ‘Net guru for Howard Dean.

Additional information about the conference is available online at

The Washington Post Co. has completed the acquisition of Slate, the online magazine, from Microsoft Corp. The deal was first announced on Dec. 21.

NBC Universal has agreed to a multi-year product placement deal with Volkswagen to use the automaker's products and brand in its film, DVD, theme parks, and other entertainment properties.

Oil & Gas Financial Journal will be published monthly beginning in Feb.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. has joined the PBS weekly newsmagazine NOW as a regular contributor.

Kennedy, a senior attorney for the Natural Resources Defense Council, is expected to appear as a regular guest when environmental issues are in the news.

Other new contributors to the series include Christine Whitman, former administrator of the EPA and New Jersey Governor; Constance Rice, civil rights attorney, and Angus King, former Governor of Maine.

John Siceloff is executive producer of the program, which airs Friday nights at 9 p.m. (ET).

"A Current Affair" is scheduled to return this spring on the Fox owned-and-operated broadcast stations.

The half-hour syndicated program will be hosted by Tim Green, Fox Sports commentator, author, columnist, lawyer and former NFL defensive end.

Peter Brennan, who is the executive producer, said the new program will cover "fascinating stories no other program will unveil."

The International Herald Tribune in Paris has begun distributing a daily English edition of Phujadkam, a business paper in Thailand, in its Asian edition, and opened a bureau in Frankfurt to expand its coverage of Germany.


Headline News will get a new name—Headline Prime—along with two new soft-news shows, including a one-hour entertainment news program called "Showbiz Tonight" at 7 p.m (ET), and "Nancy Grace," a one-hour legal affairs program starring the former Atlanta prosecutor, at 8 p.m. (ET).
Both new shows will start Feb. 21.

Meanwhile, the corresponding hours on CNN will be counter-programmed for hard news, a departure from the mix of news, features and entertainment that airs on "Anderson Cooper 360" and "Paula Zahn Now."

Elena Kornbluth, formerly articles editor at Interior Design, has joined O at Home as articles editor.

Richard Dunahm, the White House correspondent and national political reporter for Business Week, was elected 2005 president of the National Press Club in Washington, D.C.

Internet Edition, Jan. 26, 2005, Page 7

Phair will listen to chapters (con't. from one)

But she said the board doesn t plan such a meeting until May or June, which would be too late to affect this year's nominating and election process.

Del Galloway, 2004 president, last year asked chapters to lead the way to decoupling the Assembly after a board-led move failed in 2003.

Christopher Lynch of PRSA/Cleveland led the 2004 move, rounding up support among other chapters and making an address to the Assembly.

"If the membership wants it (decoupling), it will happen," said Phair. The chapters have to "come forward," she added.

Asked why the Society doesn t switch its corporate charter from New York to Delaware, which allows association members to vote by e-mail or teleconference, Phair replied that there are "a lot of problems to such a move."

Delaware has told this NL that it will enroll an association over the phone for $89 "in five minutes" with paperwork to follow. The state said it wants groups to modernize governance. New York says groups can cancel charters via the State website as long as taxes are paid. Cost is $60.

No Press Conference on Ketchum/Williams

Asked why she and PRSA directors did not hold a press conference on Ketchum/Williams Jan. 13-14 when the board was in New York, Phair replied that she didn t see any need for a conference and that no other media except this NL asked for one.

She said she dealt with the New York Times and other media on a one-to-one basis.

Phair had not seen a copy of the Ketchum/Williams contract, which was posted on the USA Today website Jan. 7.

This NL faxed it to her and PRSA staff, who also had not seen the contract. The Council of PR Firms also had not seen it and it was faxed to CPRF president Kathy Cripps.

Expulsion of Kotcher, Thelian Unlikely

Phair wouldn t discuss the possibility of PRSA expelling the two Ketchum executives most probably involved in the contract, CEO Ray Kotcher and senior partner Lorraine Thelian (who is APR).
Phair conceded that, "Yes, Ketchum made a mistake," but wouldn t go into the matter of the individuals involved in the mistake.

Phair's two public statements on Ketchum/Williams have used neither the name of Ketchum or Williams.

Ketchum is the PR firm most honored by PRSA, having won 89 Silver Anvils, the Society's highest award. Anvils, which recognize the corporate or team effort of PR programs, are given to clients and their PR firms and not to individuals.

Ketchum, while paying $300,000 to the CPRF in membership dues from 1998 to 2004, with another $50K owed for 2005, cut its PRSA memberships from 81 in 2001 to 22 in 2004. It paid just under $70K in PRSA dues for its employees from 1998-04. Thirteen of the employees were APR in 2001 while eight were in 2004.

Phair said there is a "lot of wiggle room" in the section of the PRSA bylaws that says the board "shall have the power" to "expel" members who have been "sanctioned by a government agency."

Ketchum was criticized by the General Accounting Office last May for its role in distributing VNRs promoting the new Medicare law allegedly without proper identification. The GAO said the VNRs were "covert propaganda" and federal law was broken.

The FCC and Education Dept. are investigating whether "payola" provisions of the Communications Act were broken by the K/W contract.

No Blog for Phair

Phair saw no need for herself to have a "blog" (website providing opinions by the author with opportunities for response by readers). IABC chair David Kistle has a blog.

She was asked to explain the apparent low status of the public and media in PRSA's Ethics Code.

The Code, under "Fair Play," says, "We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media and the general public."

Asked why the public is last and media next to last, Phair said, "It's just a list and all parts are equal." PRSA's 380-word "Statement on PR" puts "media relations" as words 329 and 330.

Five percent of the questions on the new APR multiple choice exam, created over four years for $250K, are on "media relations. In its first full year ended last June 30, 41 PRSA members passed it. Results are unavailable for the second half.

Financial Expert on Board?

Asked why there isn t a financial expert such as a CFO, CPA or Chartered Financial Analyst on the PRSA board (required for public companies and a policy followed by many associations), Phair replied that director Steven Lubetkin, formerly with Bank of America but now in his own firm, "is one of the most experienced in corporate finance because he has held positions with several banks."

She also cited Anthony D Angelo, director of marketing, communications and training, Carrier Corp. Replacement Components division, and treasurer Rhoda Weiss, who is "acting CEO of a company in Hawaii and is also very experienced."

Refuses to Show Deferred Income

Asked why PRSA's balance sheet does not reflect deferred income equal to about six months dues (as is done by the IABC, Amer. Soc. of Assn. Execs., Amer. Bar Assn., Amer. Medical Assn., AICPA national and chapters, and other associations), Phair said she saw no need for this.

She rejected a proposal that PRSA, in the interests of openness and clarity, provide the more popular type of balance sheet while keeping its unusual presentation as the official balance sheet.

A deferred dues account of about six months of dues income would add about $1.5 million to PRSA's liabilities. Payables were $973K as of Sept. 30, 2004.

Internet Edition, Jan. 26, 2005 Page 8




The genesis of the mess Ketchum and Fleishman-Hillard are in now is the dot-com bust of 2000 and 9/ll of 2001 that cut deeply into the revenues of many PR firms and forced them to go after government business as never before.

The hefty government contracts of many firms have been jeopardized by these two incidents.

One problem with such business is that it is conducted in the glare of the mid-day sun instead of in private like so many corporate PR accounts. There is public bidding and public airing of terms.

The documents exposed so far in L.A. are voluminous with much more to come while the surface has yet to be scratched in D.C. Also, such contracts can become political footballs.

Public officials paint themselves as guardians of the public treasury and defenders against political corruption. The press eats it up. Democrats in D.C. now have the Republicans in a toe hold with Ketchum/Williams. Complaints are being made about the way Social Security reform is being sold.

Why is Armstrong Williams getting so much heat, being forced to personally apologize, losing his syndicated column, and being banned from "America's Black Forum" (67 million possible viewers) while no one at Ketchum, PRSA's most honored PR firm by far, is taking any blame?

CEO Ray Kotcher and senior partner Lorraine Thelian had to know about the $948K contract. PRSA is so timid it won t even say "Ketchum" or "Thelian," who is an APR. It is firmly against sin but won t name the sinner. The Council of PR Firms has the same stance.

There's a lot of illogic going on here. PRSA, recognizing that PR people practice as a team, only gives Silver Anvils to corporate entities (Ketchum having won 89). But when something bad happens at a PR firm, PRSA suddenly says only individuals are members and only they are subject to any criticism.

When the Jayson Blair scandal broke at the New York Times in 2003, there were initial denials and posturings and then resignations by editor Howell Raines and managing editor Gerald Boyd.

Before PR firms pay $350 per entry for the Anvils this year, they should study the rigid rules that demand that three-quarters of the entry emphasize research and strategy and one-quarter, execution.

Gray and Co., one of the leading D.C. firms in the early 1980's (180 employees, 148 clients, $20M), was heavily dependent on U.S. and foreign government contracts. It ran into huge PR problems involving charges of government corruption in Spain and was found guilty of violating the Foreign Agents Registration Act in 1985 for not labeling VNRs for Morocco and Japan as propaganda. The firm, hurt by the scandals, was sold in 1986 to the JWT Group (of WPP Group).

Kotcher at first gave an exclusive statement to the PR Week website after snubbing other media.
He blamed Williams and "political divisiveness" in D.C. PRW carried the statement without asking any questions, thereby turning itself into Kotcher's PR firm. To her credit, PRW editor Julia Hood told the NYT that it's "an extraordinarily dismal situation" that "reinforces many of the worst perceptions of the industry."

Other media, such as USA Today, which broke the story in early January and put the K/W contract on its website, had to quote PRW. The media storm forced Thelian to admit "a lapse in judgment" (by what people, we d like to know?) while the CPRF backtracked on its view that only Williams was at fault and condemned "pay for play."

A Thelian statement to PRW said the agency was not "pitching" Williams to other media as a "spokesperson." But the contract said Williams was to "utilize his long term relationship with America's Black Forum, where he is a guest commentator, to encourage the producers to address the NCLB Act..." The ABF jettisoned Williams.

PRSA inveighed against any "paid endorsement that is presented as objective news" and said its code requires "open, honest communications." Under the code, PRSA members responsible for miscommunication, if "sanctioned by a government agency," can be expelled by the board.

President Bush, asked by USA Today if it was a mistake for the Education Dept. to "pay Williams to endorse NCLB in his broadcasts," answered, "No." He then added that the story brought up "serious concerns" and "there needs to be a clear distinction between journalism and advocacy."

Two other things about this amazed us. Frank Rich wrote a lengthy piece excoriating Williams, especially Williams alleged posturing as a "media ethicist" on CNN, but failed to mention Ketchum by name. He referred to "a private p.r. firm." How can a public relations firm be private, especially when it is owned by a public ad agency–Omnicom?

Neither PRSA's PR staff, PRSA pres. Judy Phair, nor the CPRF had a copy of the K/W contract although it has been on since Jan. 7. PRSA's value system is obvious in its list of who deserves to be treated fairly: "Clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media and the general public." At the end are the public and media.

The 2005 board should re-write this and put the public first, ending doubt about PRSA's priorities.        

–Jack O'Dwyer


Copyright © 1998-2020 J.R. O'Dwyer Company, Inc.
271 Madison Ave., #600, New York, NY 10016; Tel: 212/679-2471