Posted by Amanda Chapel
A Conversation with Rick French
Well, if you happen to have read the funny papers Friday, Rick French, president and CEO of French/West/Vaughan resigned from the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS) of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) after having served one year of a three-year term.
According to Jack O’Dwyer, French agreed that PRSA "has some issues, policies and stances it needs to address.” Rick said, “I personally wish the BEPS board had more authority to effect changes within the organization." Okay. Good. However, O’Dwyer added that French declined to discuss any specific issues.
Ahhhhhhhh... yes... the PR Dodge (dodge (dòj): 1. To avoid by moving or shifting quickly aside; 2. To evade by cunning, trickery, or deceit: kept dodging the reporter's questions).
Well, of course, to us here at Strumpette... that’s red meat!! We decided to ask French directly to clarify. After a little soft-shoe dancing on his part, it deteriorated into French threatening to sue us. Note: We’ve subsequently learned that Rick is an expert in crisis communications. I believe this is the recommended tactic to use when you're between a rock and a hard place holding bupkis.
Anyway, the following are excerpts of our conversation:
Again, for the record, in subsequent emails, Rick went from threatening a lawsuit to accusing us of “blackmail and extortion.” “Serious charges,” he said. “Enjoy the Cook County showers,” he said.
Bottom line: Rick opened the door in O’Dwyers. Again, according to French, PRSA "has some issues, policies and stances it needs to address.” Rick said, “I personally wish the BEPS board had more authority to effect changes within the organization."
And look what he goes through here to avoid answering any specific issues. Any wonder why things are as fucked up as they are in the PR industry.
Thanks Rick. You'll be missed.
PR is a passel of of crooked bastards who turn the other cheek
I’ve been digging through the archives (more than 1300 posts) for something suitably intelligent and prescient to post in anticipation of BuzzCanuck’s 1% army bracket. Instead, I’ve come up with a thought - two and a half years old - ...
Tracked: Aug 04, 17:45
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Enough of about PR and ethics. The entire game is based on moving your messages through the most advantageous channels to hit your target(s) most effectively. How do you regulate an industry that is half art and half science?
Just like the NBA, let the players play the game, sure there are going to be some elbows thrown, but hey, no blood, no foul.
From the beach chair in Sarasota.
Matt Gentile (FloridaMoves.com - 300 days of sunshine.)
No. The problem is far more serious than you characterize regrettably.
Excuse me but without rules, there is no game. Without some standards, there is no professional practice.
I'm not saying that we don't have a certain ethical code that as professionals we try to live and work by, but in this field the boundaries are always moving and just like in real estate, the code of ethics is only as good as the people practicing it.
To get caught up on a load of corporate bullshit that tries to lay down the "law" is just not realistic. We are not lawyers or accountants, nor do I want to be. The flexibility within the system enables ethical decisions to be made on a case by case basis. The game that we play is too complex for simply defined rules. Experience is the best guide. The first time you burn a reporter or a client teaches you more about ethics in one minute than any formalized structure ever could.
Let the outside world think what they want about PR professionals, to try and explain the 100 ethical decisions that we have to make in a day would be an impossible task and not worth the time.
Now I must go swim in the warm gulf waters of Siesta Key Beach.
Regards from the beach chair.
Matt Gentile - (FloridaMoves.com - 300 Days of Sunshine)
With all due respect... how old are you? There is a new generation that due to the weakness of the generation that went before it, believes in Ethical Relativism. Sad... and actually grossly naïve. Ethical Relativism, no matter what the current state of affairs is, is antithetical to business. Business ONLY works with a level playing field. A level playing field is only possible with independent standards.
With regard to "corporate bullshit that laws down the law"... The law is independent of the corporation. You need to behave because you are part of a system that NEEDS TO BEHAVE.
Regrettably, today PR has lost its rudder. There are no ethical standards. Torossian can justify Girls Gone Wild and Regent University in the same breath. That's not freedom; that reduces and limits us.
I always enjoy your extraordinary intellect and depth. I'm in my upper mid-thirties for another year, then it's 39 and there just is no spinning that slippery slope.
Having participated in setting the stage for the Iraqi opposition (INC) working in London in the early 90's to promoting the International broadcast rights for the riot that turned out to be Riddick Bowe vs. Andrew Golata in MSG to surviving Enron while working for Andersen to promoting it's a great time to buy a home in Florida, I've seen many shades of gray between black and white when it comes to ethics.
I think we have all done things in this business that we are not proud of, but we learn from those experiences and it makes us who we are, some for the better, some for worse. My mentor was chain smoking professor Henry Lloyd who had his third bypass by time he was 50 pushing the message for whatever client was paying. It's a hard business with extraordinary stress, but we live for that "juice" of knowing what Joe on the street won't know until tomorrow, next week or never.
In terms of "Business ONLY works with a level playing field, I respectfully disagree. Business only works when one company is gaining an advantage. Our job is to not only protect that image, but to seek out every possible advantage and exploit it to maximum utility.
Using the current state of politics as a metaphor for our business, it just seems to me that the knives are always out and what used to recognized civility is now perceived as weakness. Where does it end? I don't know. I'm not saying I don't admire your efforts to call attention to the ethical problems plaguing our industry and the need for leadership on the issue. I just don't have much faith in a plan being created that would have a dramatic impact industry wide.
At the end of the day if I can look at my 2 1/2 and 5 year old sons in the eyes and know that I didn't have to cross my own set of ethics, then I can live with and be proud to have survied and thrived in this game I know as PR.
Ha, okay got kind of corney there at the end, especially with the rhyming. Good times. I don't get to write for fun much so this blog provides a great creative outlet.
Thank you for the challenging dialog.
Turning the lights out in Sarasota.
Matt Gentile (FloridaMoves.com - 300 Days of Sunshine)
Sorry to chime in so late, Amanda. Summer in academe, you know. I made quite a study of PRSA's Code about 15 years ago when the Code actually had enforcement provisions. Why did the new code, passed in '97, delete the enforcement language? In a word: Litigation.
There was a time when a practitioner called to account for breaches of ethics would show up and face the music at PRSA headquarters. Then, sometime in the 80s, these sinners began showing up with attorneys and threatening lawsuits.
So let's assume BEPS acquires the cajones (and the cash) to press for enforcement of a code -- lawyers be damned. What consequences does the "accused" face for violation of standards? Worst punishment available is expulsion from PRSA. Would that scare you? Me neither, and I've been a member for 25 years. Back in '86, when PRSA prez Tony Franco was accused of insider trading, he simply resigned his post AND his membership. Game over.
Since we're not licensed professionals in this business, no one can bar us from practicing PR. Even the most sleazy among us can hang out the shingle -- and many do. Consider, too, that only about 15% of PR practitioners are members of PRSA or IABC. By contrast, some 85% of docs are AMA members; about the same number of CPAs belong to the AICPA. Both of those professions license their practitioners and have strong governing bodies. PR has nothing even close.
I applaud you for raising a key issue here. The age of Web 2.0 has opened oh-so many doors for us to act unethically. But short of licensing, I don't see an answer beyond individual responsibility. And that, as you know, is no answer.