Every PR news outlet has, over the past week, been talking about one thing – so called sweaty-gate. And with the world of PR talking about it, it seemed only fitting to share my views.
If you haven’t followed the story, here is a quick run-down of what has happened.
A feature about an antiperspirant brand was released to numerous media outlets, including many national newspapers. But now the Press Association has advised newspapers to remove the story after it was discovered the subject of the feature was an employee of Fuel (a PR agency). Fuel was representing a product – Odaban antiperspirant – and in the feature the subject spoke extremely positively about the product. She is in fact an employee of the firm and went under a different name for the feature.
The feature in question
Adrian Wheeler, former chairman of PRCA and board director of the CIPR, raised a complaint against the firm and it is now under investigation by the PRCA’s Professional Practices Committee (PPC).
Now, the ethical issue here is that consumers have been misled. In working for the agency, it is clear that she will hold a bias view of the product. And saying that she is a user of the product, when she may well not be, is simply false information. Fuel PR have said all information except the subjects name is true, but since discovering she is an employee it makes me question if it is a completely fabricated story.
Sending out false information in this way is against both the PRCA and CIPR code of conduct. The PRCA code of conduct and professional charter says its members should:
“have a positive duty at all times to respect the truth and shall not disseminate false or misleading information knowingly or recklessly, and to use proper care to avoid doing so inadvertently”.
Similarly the CIPR code of conduct states its members must:
“Never deliberately concealing the practitioner’s role as representative of a client or employer, even if the client or employer remains anonymous: e.g. by promoting a cause in the guise of a disinterested party or member of the public”.
I think it fair to say that the agency has gone against both these guidelines. As it stands, options open to the PPC are:
“dismissing the case; giving a note of advice to Fuel PR about how it could improve its processes; suspending membership; or terminating membership.” – PR Week
Personally, I feel suspension of their membership is just in this case, as they have gone against the codes of conduct. I also think that the employee in question needs investigating. Why would she agree to be featured in something unethical? Did she agree at all? And who did the idea to do this come from?
I think it is a very interesting story to follow and I shall be looking to see if the outcome is as I thought best. After studying ethics of PR in university, applying the theory to this case has been useful.
What are your thoughts on this and what do you think the outcome for this should be? Leave any ideas in the comments.
You can follow the story on PR Week.
Until next time…