FleishmanHillard is taking some lumps for compiling a dossier of journalists, politicos and members of the scientific community who raised concerns in Europe about Monsanto's Roundup weed-killer, a long-time favorite punching bag of environmental activists and the anti-GMO crowd.
The Omnicom unit was just doing its job.
France's Le Monde broke the story of the 2016 dossier put together ahead of a 2017 European Union vote on whether to approve the use of glyphosate (e.g., Roundup) for five years. The tally won. Good job, FH.
The sleuths at FH even had the audacity to put then-French environmental minister Ségolène Royal on the list. Sacre Bleu!
With all due respect to Le Monde, gathering intelligence is part of the responsibilities of a PR firm.
A dossier of influencers provides the material required for a firm to cultivate supporters as informational allies in a PR campaign and identify those who need additional persuasion in order to win them over.
PR, after all, is much more than creating flashy publicity stunts or pitching stories about the latest and greatest dishwashing liquid.
Understandably, a story about a PR firm compiling a secret dossier is certainly a juicy media story. It smacks of the old "enemies list" compiled by Richard Nixon and his gang.
The FH/Monsanto episode highlights the demand to educate the press about what PR does.
For its part, FH noted in its statement: "Our work is in keeping with the professional standards and established practices of our industry."
Germany's Bayer, parent of Monsanto, is playing its part in the production by hiring an outside lawyer to get to the bottom of things and apologizing for something that will probably turn out to be totally legit. Whatever?
Its newly minted PA/sustainability chief, Matthias Berninger, is assessing the behavior of FH, which "for the time being" has been suspended.
It's a good thing pharmaceuticals and life sciences giant Bayer is still in the aspirin business because it really didn't need the FH headache at a time when things seem to be falling apart, due largely to the $63B Monsanto deal that closed last year.
Bayer shares hit a seven-year low today following a California court's decision ordering it to pay $2B in damages to a pair of cancer patients who claimed their non-Hodgkins lymphoma was due to exposure to Roundup. It expressed disappointment with the decision and promised to appeal the verdict.
The May 13 verdict is the third Roundup-related legal defeat for Bayer. There are more than 13,400 cases pending in the US. Lots of luck.
Bayer shareholders have had it. On April 26, they rebuked CEO Werner Bauman as he lost a "confidence vote" by a 55 percent to 45 percent margin at the annual general meeting. The acquisition of Monsanto and its inherited lawsuits triggered the vote.
Bauman promised to “do everything to win back the trust of shareholders as quickly and completely as possible." Analysts give Bauman a year to shape up or ship out at the next AGM.
The FH situation is just a tempest in the mighty storm that is rocking the German giant.