Do People Really Care About PR Disclosure? And Why It Still Matters

Do people really care about disclosure by PR agencies when it comes to activities for their clients?

I don’t mean those of us in the fishbowl or in the PR industry, but the average person on the streets. Do they really care if a company’s representatives are in-house or contracted? Businessman about to reveal identityDo they care if a PR agency (or any other agency) is acting on behalf of a company, if they have the authority to do so?

Does the average person care about disclosure?

Those of us living in the fishbowl (social media and/or public relations) love to discuss the concept of disclosure. I should know – I’ve written about disclosure several times in the past.

A post yesterday from Jason Chupick over a PR agency’s disclosure (or lack thereof) of their role in a video for AT&T, and subsequent tweet by Todd Defren, sparked an interesting conversation on Twitter with Beth Harte, Sonny Gill, Arik Hanson and myself.

Essentially, as Jason’s post put it:

“Last week AT&T responded to criticism about the delays the MMS service for IPhones, as well as the device’s network-hogging tendency by way of a “Seth the Blogger Guy” YouTube video […] Seth is neither a blogger, nor does he work at AT&T. He’s just the face of the team doing the work.”

Our subsequent discussion revolved around whether the average person in the street would care that someone from AT&T’s PR agency starred in the video without disclosure.

My take: if most people in the world don’t have a clue what a PR agency is, or the nature of the client/agency relationship, are they likely to care about disclosure from agencies? Probably not. They’re more likely to care about the quality of the product/service they’re buying or the responsiveness of customer service than about who is speaking on behalf of the company.

Disclosure still matters

As the title of this post suggests, though, I think disclosure by PR agencies is important regardless of the importance the average person puts on it, for three primary reasons:

  1. De-railing your message – whether the average person cares or not, controversy courts the press. There’s no better way to derail your message than to create controversy about the medium.
  2. Industry reputation – controversy over disclosure can haunt you for years. Stories like Wal-Marting Across America or the AllIWantForXmasIsAPSP blog still reverberate around the industry. Is that what you want you or your company to be remembered for?
  3. Ethics – when I finish my work for a day, I want to feel good about it. While lack of disclosure isn’t necessarily the same as deception, I want to be able to look myself in the mirror and know that I’m doing best job I can.

On top of these reasons, if I’m right and the average person doesn’t care who’s communicating on behalf of a company, then where’s the downside to disclosing? The main argument for not disclosing tends to be that admitting it’s not the company speaking directly can lessen the effectiveness of the communication. If that’s not the case, then what?

Bottom line: I don’t think most people care about disclosure. The social media/PR echo chamber does, but I’m not sure the concern extends to the broader public. Regardless, though, I think disclosure is still important. We’re firm on disclosing our activities on behalf of clients, and I’m pretty sure that’s a good thing.

What do you think?

(Image: Shutterstock)

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