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Blimey, now the PRs are fighting each other over Georgia

Posted by Paul Seaman in Campaigning / Media / Politics / Rights / The Good Corporation / Truth & Trust on 6 September 2008

Why we posted this: Public relations people are supposed to be like lawyers, aren’t they? They don’t have to agree with their clients’ messages or be too fussy who they work for. The system may have suffered some collateral damage in Russia’s “August War” in Georgia.

The original stories:
Georgia’s PR agency lashes out at Russian ‘propaganda’
Matt Cartmell
PR Week
14 August 2008

Russia-Georgia War: The PR Battle
Mark Stone,
Sky News Reporter
13 August 2008

Georgia has won the PR war
Peter Wilby
The Guardian
18 August 2008

Summary of the stories:
The success of the Georgia PR campaign following Russia’s military intervention has been widely noted. The front page of PR Week and The Guardian highlighted how Georgia’s PR company Aspect launched its own broadside against PR rivals advocating Russia’s case. “I’m on the side of the angels,” Aspect’s founding partner, James Hunt, told the magazine. “There are agencies (GPlus) that work for Russia. But I don’t know how they can be comfortable about that.”

livingissues comment:
This might well be the first time that a PR agency has opened fire on a rival agency representing the other side in the middle of a real war. It creates an image of the PR industry as spin doctoring propagandists with axes to grind. In contrast, lawyers don’t attack the other side for acting as advocates for clients accused of rape, pedophilia, or genocide.

Good PR acts with disinterested integrity the way lawyers do. Of course, PR professionals, like lawyers, have a recognized bias to advocating one side of the story in the best possible light in accordance with the facts. Meanwhile, serious media interrogates the case made by either side with healthy scepticism, just like judges and juries do.

The best PR should be heard and not seen. PR should not become the subject. By making its role so transparently partisan and personal, Aspect’s James Hunt prompted even the liberal Guardian, which is predisposed toward Georgia, to question the veracity of some of Georgia’s claims and statements.

Of course, PR companies should be free to choose their clients according to their tastes. But what makes them respectable, trustworthy and ethical is not the clients they represent but the standards they adopt when it comes to the veracity of facts, claims and statements issued. It is how the narrative is handled, and not least how their billing matches actual work done, that matters.



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