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A Matter of Trust for the Public Relations Industry

I cannot imagine what Nina Devlin is going through right now. Last week, her husband Matthew Devlin, a former broker at Lehman Brothers, was charged by the Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission with violating insider trading laws. According to the SEC complaints, Matthew Devlin had spent the last several years tipping off friends and colleagues about mergers and acquisitions, and trading on this information. The details of the charges relate the sickening way that Matthew Devlin got his inside information. And the Devlin case highlights dangers faced by those in the public relations industry.

According to the DOJ and SEC, Matthew Devlin used information obtained from Nina Devlin, a public relations professional at Brunswick Group, to set in motion his illegal trades. Matthew Devlin tracked his wife’s travel, among things, to determine what companies were in play and what deals her employer was working on. Despite an understanding between husband and wife, Matthew Devlin also used information that his wife relayed to him during the normal course of conversation.

Nina Devlin has not been charged with any crime; authorities say she was simply the victim of a husband who apparently cared more about money than his wife. Her lawyer released a statement saying she is “devastated” by the events, and there is nothing in the complaints suggesting she did anything wrong. The U.K.-based Brunswick Group has stuck by Nina Devlin thus far. It’s horrific to think that a husband would betray his wife’s trust in such a manner, but the issue for PR Fuel readers is how those in the public relations industry can protect themselves from being used in a similar manner.

Public relations consultants often have information at their disposal from which they can benefit, usually illegally. Typically the information involves public companies and could move stocks. Other times the information could tip someone to a real estate deal that sends surrounding real estate prices higher. In the world of sports, a public relations consultant may have information about an athlete’s injury, something gamblers would love to know ahead of time.

Several years ago, I dated a woman who was a public relations executive at a major media company. I was a journalist at the time; we met through work. She was wary about having me around while she was making work calls or using her laptop, and I felt the same way. We agreed not to talk about aspects of our job that could reveal to each other information we normally would not be privy to, and I agreed not to write about her company while we were in a relationship. We never had a problem.

It is imperative that public relations professionals guard internal secrets. Whether it’s a spouse, a sibling, a parent, or a friend, you should never underestimate the capacity of those around you to do bad, or the urge to make a quick buck. At the risk of sounding like a cynic, there are more people like Matthew Devlin out there, people you would never suspect to be capable of criminal acts.

Nina Devlin trusted her husband. Why wouldn’t she? Unfortunately, Matthew Devlin repaid that trust by using his wife in a disgusting way. As a result, he will most likely go to jail or face fines. His marriage could be irreparably damaged. And the public relations industry was reminded of a valuable lesson.

One thing I forgot to point out last week in our 2009 Public Relations Calendar — http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/the-2009-public-relations-calendar/ — is the fact that Labor Day comes late next year on September 7. This is the latest day that Labor Day can occur. The lateness of the holiday will undoubtedly cause some changes to editorial calendars, and it also serves to extend summer artificially, which may push back some back-to-school features. Make sure to plan accordingly.

This article, written by Ben Silverman, originally appeared in PR Fuel (http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel), a free weekly newsletter from eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. To subscribe to PR Fuel, visit: http://www.ereleases.com/prfuel/subscribe/.

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