Egregious Breach of PR ethics

by Julia Gaynor on November 10, 2011

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It’s one of the Ten Commandments of PR: transparency. Apparently the Coghlan Consulting Group didn’t get the memo.

Back in September the PR firm came under fire after the LA Times uncovered that Coghlan was affiliated with fake news site, News Hawks Review, and had been shamelessly promoting their client Central Basin Municipal Water District of California on the site. Coghlan has an agreement between Central Basin’s public affairs office which promises promotional stories “written in the image of real news.”

This couldn’t be a more blatant violation of PR ethical standards.

Following the LA Times’ expose, PRSA weighed in condemning Coghlan actions and the industry rags were all a flutter with disapproval. You would think, given the public outcry, Coghlan would amend its ways. Quite the contrary. The LA Times reported Tuesday that the fake site, News Hawks, was publishing stories by “journalists” that didn’t exist. Since being called out on this, they have taken down their staff bios. PR Daily outlined the full details of their actions.

Of course, this is something that shouldn’t be breached and Coghlan did so intentionally, which is an issue. But here are three tips to make sure you’re on the right side of the ethical line, when doing PR for a client:

Don’t Pretend to Be Something You’re Not: You should never misrepresent who you are, or who your client is.

Transparency Is Key: Be honest and forthcoming about all relevant aspects of what you’re doing when personally promoting a client and you’ll avoid potentially hairy situations.

If  Your Stomach Hurts At The Idea, You Probably Shouldn’t Do It: The situation with Coghlan serves as a scary reminder to do a gut check every now and again when you find yourself in a hairy situation.

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