Public Relations Is Not A Right

Does everyone deserve public relations representation?

Every so often a story comes along – the recent saga around the mother of octuplets, for example – that raises the question of whether PR firms should exercise discretion in the clients with whom they choose to work. The same question gets raised for tobacco companies, oil companies, nuclear power companies and for all sorts of other organizations.

This post isn’t about any specific example, rather it’s about one general theme.

Public relations representation is not a right.

Some people see public relations alongside law. They think that everyone has a right to be represented in “the court of public opinion.”

I don’t think that coming up with a phrase that includes the word “courts” puts public relations alongside law as a right. The Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms gives every resident the right to retain legal counsel, but we’re not lawyers. I don’t see a mention of public relations in there.

There is no inalienable right to PR representation.

I’m very pro-public relations (obviously – I work in the field) but let’s be realistic here. Public relations is a business function. I think it’s an important one, but it’s still a service – just as marketing, advertising and other areas are. 

Companies or individuals who act illegally or unethically aren’t “entitled” to representation, and I personally don’t want to be the one providing it to them. I want to put my head down at night feeling good about the work I do, not worrying whether I’ve helped an unethical organization go about its business.

We’re into another grey area here – where do you draw the line? How do you decide what’s just a simple mistake and what crosses over to make a company unworthy of representation? That’s a tough question – I think different people will have different answers – and I’m not sure I even have an answer to it.

Still, while I haven’t had to deal with this situation yet, I know there are organizations out there that I wouldn’t want to represent. It’s not that it would be difficult; but that I would feel wrong representing a person or organization whose activities I fundamentally disagree with. What’s more, I don’t think I could do a good job for them – my heart wouldn’t be in it.

What do you think? Am I naive? Am I just wrong? Where do you stand on this?

Dave Fleet
Managing Director and Head of Global Digital Crisis at Edelman. Husband and dad of two. Cycling nut; bookworm; videogamer; Britnadian. Opinions are mine, not my employer's.