Don’t Blame the Client

    October 3, 2006

Several recent news stories make you wonder if unethical PR is the clients’ fault.


Keane executive David Garnick was shown the door for inappropriately trying to use investor relations to further his career. According to The Boston Globe (reg. req.):

Keane executives also confronted Garnick, he said, about a Sept. 21 e-mail exchange he had with a New York public relations representative, Hugh Burnham of Gutenberg PR.

Burnham alerted him that Wachovia Securities analyst Edward Caso had downgraded Keane’s stock rating from “outperform” to “market perform” because of Caso’s concern that Keane would tap an outside chief executive who would be slower to change the company’s business model.

In his response to Burnham, which Garnick provided to the Globe last night, he wrote, “Thanks for the note. Any way to get some expanded press to follow-up on this that puts pressure on board to make move?” Garnick said this was a reference to the chief executive search.

Garnick is also the subject of the first personnel release I can recall that publicizes an executive’s dismissal for cause.


Dave Parmet brings us a tale of a start up hoping some legal drama with Google would make them a household name. Instead it’s made them a joke and proves that all press is not good press.

India PR

Hobbit at India PR brings us some tales of bad pr moves and the clients that push the agencies to make them.


And who could forget HP? From BusinessWeek to PRWeek (reg. req.), that story has not finished writing itself.

Some of these stories may not directly involve communications people, but we should be talking about all of them more. Remaining silent, in affect, is pointing the finger at the client. And that’s bullshit.

Yes, it’s a lot easier for me to write this from a lofty, client-side perch, but the challenge is still present now that my clients are internal. My last job was at an agency that, to its credit, did walk from client relationships where the client didn’t take our counsel. Luckily we were only dealing with bad ideas being foisted upon us and not unethical behavior.

If a PR person lets the client push them in the wrong direction to engage in anything from bad ideas to bad ethics, that person deserves the end result. If we don’t point out these issues, we’ll be defined by them.

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Kevin Dugan is the author of the popular Strategic Public Relations blog. Kevin is Director of Marketing Communications for FRCH Design Worldwide.

Visit Kevin’s blog: Strategic Public Relations.