Slaughterhouse 5W: PR Firms Ethics Are Anything but Kosher

Posted on July 31, 2008 
Filed Under General

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

Comments

  • http://www.utopiacommunications.biz Ann Higgins

    Thanks for bringing the story to light. As you pointed out, 5W is not the first firm to cross the ethical line when blogging. We, as an industry, need to pay more attention to training our people on how to use new media, or any media, credibly and transparently, to convey our messages.

  • Mark Firmani

    Boy, what happened to the good old days when PRSA would take an active role in policing its own (I know – I am dating myself). Now it appears the clowns are running the circus. Makes me wonder why I remain a member.

  • http://www.meca.ca Esther Buchsbaum

    Shame on 5W, shame on Agriprocessors and shame on PRSA for not coming down hard on these guys (Jewish Mother’s guilt – doesn’t get worse than that!) But apart from the obvious we seem to be overlooking the victims – the interns, the A/Es, the guys that often have to take the hit for this unscrupulous,simply stupid behaviour. What messages are we sending them – future PR leaders!?

  • http://www.frause.com Bob Frause, APR Fellow PRSA, Chairman PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards

    While the author references the PRSA New York chapter, PRSA National has already addressed the allegations against 5W in comments I made in “PR Week” – July 11 – UPDATE: 5W Acknowledges Blog Misconduct and the “Jewish Daily Forward” – July 24 – Public Relations Firm Criticized. Additionally, the Board of Ethics and Professional Standards is working this week on a new Practice Standards Advisory that will cover ethical protocols and practice standards for online communications including blogging, commenting on blogs, deceptive online practices, etc. A draft of the new PSA is expected next week and PRSA will publicly issue the standard as soon as it is approved by PRSA National’s Board of Directors. We welcome all input. ust send your thoughts to me at bfrause@frause.com .

    Bob Frause, APR Fellow PRSA and Chairman PRSA Board of Ethics and Standards

  • Michael L. Herman, APR, Fellow PRSA

    This is not simply a matter of “oops, we goofed up”. On its face, and in fact, this appears to be a fairly blatant effort to mislead the public and regardless of “growing pains” excuse, its obvious that employee orientation at 5W doesn’t include any efforts to educate employees with regard to the importance of ethics and ethical conduct within the agency.

    Michael L. Herman, APR,S.A.G.E., Fellow PRSA

  • http://www.thebaldwincompanies.com Erin Baldwin

    On May 5, 2008, I sent out an inquiry for one of my clients to what I thought were the top PR firms, 5W being one of them. At first Ron Torossian, replied as follows:

    Thanks so much for the note. We are very interested and have tremendous food & beverage experience http://www.5wpr.com/practice/consumer-FOOD.cfm. Your brand looks great and there’s a ton we can do. Can we ask how many PR firms you are speaking/meeting with?
    Thanks and best,
    Ronn D. Torossian
    President & CEO
    5W Public Relations (www.5wpr.com)
    1120 Avenue of Americas, 7th Floor
    New York, NY 10036

    Then, when I sent out the RFP, he took a hateful, nasty tone and replied as follows:

    Insulting? We (I personally) found your RFP insulting… You want 5 firms to give you their best ideas… not tell them what strategically they are looking for until the end? and budget’s open?
    Someone else will do a better song & dance… We are much different than other agencies out there… After the 1st 1 or 2 you choose burn you, come back and speak with us.

    Ronn D. Torossian
    President & CEO
    5W Public Relations (www.5wpr.com)
    1120 Avenue of Americas, 7th Floor
    New York, NY 10036

    I just knew it was only a matter of time before he would crash and burn. Karma is a funny thing. You can’t be a nasty, arrogant, unprincipled business person for long without getting what is coming to you.

    I love it when I see this kind of thing happen. It just made my day. Good luck, Ronn, you’re going to need it!

    Erin Baldwin
    The Baldwin Companies
    http://www.thebaldwincompanies.com

  • Antonia :)

    I am a Public Relations major, and I am using this article for a paper I have to write on Mass Media Ethics concerning my field. What a perfect example. Thank you. :)

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