Wow, shame on me for just now commenting on this hot mess of a story. Ann Higgins, president of Utopia Communications, recently brought to my attention the story of one very unethical kosher slaughterhouse’s relationship with one very unethical PR firm. Apparently 5W, allegedly American’s “fastest growing PR firm,” is on the fast-track to reputation damnation for its underhanded approach to addressing its client Agriprocessors’ current image crisis.
Agriprocessors has come under fire for, among other things, horrific worker abuses and some very not-kosher slaughter practices. Last month, the company hired 5W Public Relations to handle the growing negative coverage, especially among influential bloggers and Jewish community members. It was a match made in heaven when considered in the context of both organizations’ questionable treatment of employees; 5W, headed up by Ronn Torossian, has its own soiled track record when it comes to employee morale.
But back to the issue at hand: Recent revelations that a 5W employee impersonated Rabbi Morris Allen—a prominent critic of Agriprocessors—on a number of influential blogs call the PR agency’s credibility into question in a big way. Obviously, this is bad news in and of itself—a lesson Edelman learned by misrepresenting blogger identities for client Wal-Mart in the now notorious “Wal-Marting Across America” blog. While both experiments in ghostwriting for clients betrayed standards of transparency, 5W made a bad situation worse by first denying their association to the posts, and then blaming them on an intern.
The intern-as-a-scapegoat approach didn’t really pan out either, and Torossian has finally addressed the incident, blaming the mistake on “corporate growing pains:”
“… my [Internet Technology] Department investigated accusations which we have now learned to be true,” Torossian told Iowa Independent. “A senior staff member failed to be transparent in dealing with client matters. He has taken full responsibility. Growing companies often have problems in their expansion, and we continue to strive for the highest performance. We have instituted internal measures to ensure this cannot happen again. We continue to strive for the highest ethical standards.”
Good luck with that, Ronn. In the meantime, there is another organization that should be weighing its options: the Public Relations Society of America. 5W EVP and General Manager Adam Handelsman sits on the PRSA-NY board of directors, with a term that won’t expire until December 31, 2010. While Torossian pulls his stuff together, the PRSA board may want to consider making the executive decision to “excuse” any 5W affiliates from further duties. It seems like it’d be the ethical thing to do.
By Courtney Barnes