Slaughterhouse 5W: PR Firms Ethics Are Anything but Kosher

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

The one employee who brings in all the revenue

Here at PR News (and our parent company Access Intelligence) we receive lots of email inquiries from PR professionals. Some are helpful, some are useless, some are neutral, some are spot-on. And some are just funny.  A few days ago, I received an email with the opening line — “Can you put me in touch with the person at your organization who is responsible for driving revenue?” Now, this was not an email from a prince from some far-away country. Nor was it from an unrecognizable company. It was from the director of PR at a bona fide organization. I didn’t take it seriously on several fronts — and herein lies the humor of it. First of all — aren’t we all responsible for driving revenue (or growth) at our organization whether directly or indirectly?  I shudder at the thought that there might be one person — that’s right, just one employee — responsible for all the revenue at a company. Start-ups and one-man-shows aside, that is indeed funny and scary. Second, this email was humorous because the writer specified a date and time for an interview with the CEO of the company pitching a new tech product and the PR professional mentioned that they’d call me at that time. Sure, I’ll be right here waiting for the phone to ring. And lastly, the writer was pitching this to PR News, not a relevant target for this email inquiry, I promise you.  So, let’s take a closer look at our email communications and make sure it’s relevant to the sender, does not inspire unintentional laughter and does not make demands for appointments.  And let’s make sure all our employees have our eyes on driving growth and revenue. If you know of any company that has just one employee responsible for all revenue, please let me know. We can get you some publicity.

- Diane Schwartz

No Such Thing as Bad Publicity?

“There’s no such thing as bad publicity,” PT Barnum once famously said. Clearly the fabled showman/entrepreneur might have had the ongoing media brouhaha over Christian Bales’s arrest earlier this week in London for assaulting his mother and sister in mind. The details that have emerged about the incident have been bizarre—was it verbal assault, apparently a cardinal offense in Jolly Ole England, or just a mere “push and a shove?”

Naturally, each camp is presenting their own “Rashomon” take on things. Bales’s team has categorically denied the charges and has suggested this was a shakedown with mom and sis insisting he’d unload some of his untold millions their way— certainly mom and sis running to the police station to file charges the eve before Bale’s blockbuster film The Dark Knight premiered in the UK does raise suspicion that some untoward, mercenary motive was at play. Making matters worse, mom supposedly insulted Bale’s wife—not a very ingratiating thing to do, especially when you’re trying to elicit money from your millionaire movie star son.

Reps for mom and sis are saying that Bale went ballistic due to a family dispute. Also, some reports are saying that they never filed charges and they simply don’t know why or how this whole incident got blown out of control. Oh, good grief…

As a result of Bale’s allegedly aggressive actions, some movie industry analysts went on a TV tour of entertainment shows on Monday predicting the crashing halt of the unstoppable The Dark Knight juggernaut, which shattered box office records in the U.S. opening weekend with a $158 million take, trouncing previous record holder, “Spiderman 3.” The heart flutters. Is the Batman gravy train now a memory?

Apparently not. According to boxofficemojo.com, a site that tracks the box office gross of movies currently in release, The Dark Knight took in over $20 million on Tuesday, the day after Bale’s arrest made headlines, which now brings the total gross to well over $200 million in five days, thus setting yet another record! Look out Titanic, the all-time box office winner.

I can hear PT Barnum laughing in his grave.

By Iris Dorbian

New Media Goes to Beijing

The past few weeks have been decisive for athletes around the world, many of whom have been competing in time trials to qualify for the upcoming Olympic Games in Beijing. While most eyes are on these sportsmen and women, many others’ have been fixed on something slightly less dependent on a stopwatch: the Internet.

NBC recently announced plans to use the Olympics as a “billion-dollar” research lab to understand how people around the world will use digital platforms to follow the games when they aren’t sitting in front of their televisions.

More than an opportunity for NBC, though, this social experiment will be very telling for the marketers and communications professionals who are constantly trying to understand how people supplement their traditional media consumption with new technologies, including online video, live blogs and mobile phone updates.

According to CNN.com, NBC has scheduled 3,600 hours of Olympics programming on its main network, along with other affiliates, to pack eight days worth of programming into each day. The company is planning to make 2,200 hours of streaming video available on NBCOlympics.com. Consumers may also get video on demand via their computer and Olympics content through their mobile phones.

The network is tapping organizations that include Nielsen Media Research, Integrated Media Measurement Inc. and Quantcast Corporation to get data from their online efforts. This data will be supplemented by a daily online survey of 500 consumers, who will be asked detailed questions about how they are using various media platforms.

This is certainly an expensive experiment, and companies around the world should be grateful that NBC is footing the bill, as the insights gleaned from the research could shed more light on the best ways to reach consumers online. It’s also an effort that Presidential candidates should follow closely, as the conclusion of the Games—and, therefore, the “experiment”—will come in the critical time leading up to Election Day. Will candidates integrate the findings into their own last minute efforts to reach voters?  I’d venture to say Obama will, given his dexterity with digital platforms. One can only hope that McCain’s camp will do the same; his own online efforts have been criticized for being … well, anachronistic.

By Courtney Barnes

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