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When PR people worry about ethics, you know you have a problem*


Scary must-read column by Michael Bush from this morning’s Ad Age email reports that “19% of the 252 chief marketing officers and marketing directors surveyed said their organizations had bought advertising in return for a news story” and quotes the CEO of the company that did the study saying “I’m not saying it’s a huge problem,” Mr. Hass said. “But 19% of senior marketers saying they do it constitutes a problem.” Never mind that if 19% admit that they do it, how many might actually be doing it??

If you care about the credibility of the online media, you’ll think the problem is huge. Read the whole article to find out how many marketing people said the marketing industry as a whole is not following ethical guidelines in the new-media realm, it’ll send chills down your spine. Besides educating the public to be more skeptical, as Dan Gillmor recommends, is this more the problem of the PR industry failing to live up to a code of ethics? Or the failure of the traditional and/or online media who accept these deals, failing to live up to their own standards? Which is easier to do something about?

Public Relations Society of America Member Code of Ethics 2000 – “Preserve the free flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts by ensuring that gifts are nominal, legal, and infrequent.”

A Bloggers’ code of Ethics (from “Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence content. When exceptions are made, disclose them fully to readers.”

American Society of Newspaper Editors Statement of Principles “Journalists must avoid impropriety and the appearance of impropriety as well as any conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict. They should neither accept anything nor pursue any activity that might compromise or seem to compromise their integrity.”

See also links to many journalism ethics codes from traditional media groups, helpfully collected by ASNE.

*Disclaimer: I have friends who work or have worked in PR who are wonderful and honorable people. Just as I know at least one honest real estate agent, who also happens to be a journalist, book author, and an occasional blogger, (and no, I get no kickbacks for promoting her stuff, she’s just a friend whose work I enjoy and you should too) I’m sure that there are many other good folks in PR, who know the extent of the truth behind the stereotypes of their industry and will therefore have the good sense not to be offended by this headline.

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  1. Josh

    August 5, 2008 @ 9:12 am


    I’d be curious to see what these marketers considered a “news story.” I doubt most of the publications that are getting paid for stories are what most folks would consider the mainstream media. Maybe trade magazines, newsletters, etc.

  2. Persephone Miel

    August 5, 2008 @ 9:21 am


    Probably true, but it’s a slippery slope, don’t you think. Have you looked at PayPerPost?
    “Get paid for blogging. You’ve been writing about Web sites, products, services and companies you love for years and you have yet to benefit from all the sales and traffic you have helped generate. That’s about to change. With PayPerPost advertisers are willing to pay you for your opinion on various topics.”