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Catching Flack: A Canadian PR Man Spills the Beans
The public relations industry does not brook criticism lightly, as we discovered for the umpteenth time in June of this year when an interview with PR Watch founder John Stauber appeared on MediaChannel, a website that analyzes the global news and entertainment media.
When members of the PR industry learned that the interview was scheduled to run, their "crisis management" forces swung into action. Ray Gaulke, president and chief operating officer of the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), who complains that "public relations doesn't have a forum to tell its side of the story when the PR bashers take on our profession," described industry's response in the Summer 2000 issue of Public Relations Strategist, an in-house publication sent to the PRSA's 30,000 members.
"We spoke to MediaChannel's senior editor, Aliza Dichter," Gaulke stated. "She said that, in this case, MediaChannel would be willing to provide that forum to PRSA. Typically, she was on deadline and the turnaround time was short (over the weekend). So I called Fraser [Seitel, the editor of Public Relations Strategist]." Seitel rose to the challenge and, in Gaulke's words, "Stauber was rebutted with facts, with style, and with a sense of humor."
To read John's interview, Seitel's response and other related commentary, visit the MediaChannel website. The exchange was also reprinted in Public Relations Strategist, for which we are grateful. (Immediately after it appeared, we noticed a surge in sales of our book, Toxic Sludge Is Good For You: Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry.)
The "humor" in Fraser Seitel's response consisted of an attempt to portray John as some kind of frothing malcontent. "John Stauber is an angry fellow," he wrote. "He condemns reporters. ... He laments modern society. ... But most of all, Mr. Stauber loathes public relations--the practice that, he says, has become 'a huge, powerful hidden medium available only to wealthy individuals, big corporations, governments and government agencies.' ... Why don't we cut Mr. Stauber and his misinformed opinions some slack. And next time you see him, give him a hug and tell him, 'No hard feelings.' "
Perhaps Seitel should first send the hug brigade to soothe some of his angry colleagues in Canada, who went ballistic when former PR man Eric Sparling wrote a public apology, titled "Confessions of a Spin Doctor," that appeared in the Toronto Star on June 21, 2000.
With the Star's permission, we are reprinting Sparling's apology, followed by an article that he wrote for PR Watch explaining why he wrote the original essay and how the PR industry has responded to it. We think you will find it interesting reading.
You will notice that neither of Sparling's essays mentions any of his former clients by name or the name of his former employer. That is because the terms of his employment contract expressly bar him from discussing publicly his work for specific clients.