Thumbs All Around

Thumbs Down: Marek Fuchs of for giving a presentation last week at the University of North Carolina for the Society of American Business Editors and Writers’ fall conference in which he basically said public relations people are controlling the coverage of business, and comparing the financial media to the sports media.

“If you want a quote from anyone, be it a backdating CEO or a point guard with a suspect jumper, whatever you get will be vetted and rehearsed seven different ways before it is uttered. And let’s be clear, said utterance will come under the tight supervision of a heavily armed public relations staffer,” Fuchs said.

While Fuchs’ main goal was to slam journalists for not doing their jobs, he also unfairly attacks public relations people, many of whom know how difficult it is to control “a backdating CEO” and “a point guard with a suspect jumper.” What Fuchs does not address is the fact that the subjects of journalists’ questions are often expected to say something brilliant or newsworthy on cue and without notice while talking about sometimes complicated and delicate matters.

More so, journalists have an inherent bias towards asking such subjects questions that are either negative in tone, or are leading. The main problem I have with the state of journalism is the inflexibility of journalists (spurred on by their editors). Journalists, more than PR people, have created a system that forces PR people and news subjects to reply with canned responses. The soundbite was created by the media, not by PR people.

Thumbs Up: David Splivalo of Freestyle Public Relations in Des Moines, Iowa, who scored a nice profile in Des Moines Register highlighting his firm’s work with local companies.

“[The firm’s] clients include MediNotes, the Technology Association of Iowa and Baton Rouge-based Trace-Security, which has been in 10 segments on NBC’s ‘Today Show’ this year with help from Freestyle,” Karen Mracek reported.

This is the type of ink that PR firms often ignore – ink for their own firms. Freestyle, no doubt, is on the prowl for new clients, and articles like can be effective ways to scare up leads. What I found most interesting about Splivalo is that he’s not from Iowa. He’s a Californian who launched a PR firm in the Washington, D.C. area and set up shop in the Midwest on the suggestion of an Iowa-based client. The move looks smart because I call tell you, the last thing any city on either coasts needs is another PR firm.

Thumbs Down: Ellen DeGeneres for using her talk show as a platform to air a grievance publicly and in the process hurt a pet adoption shelter.

DeGeneres admitted she broke the shelter’s rules, which are in place to protect the animals the shelter is trying to save, but her whining suggests that she doesn’t believe rules apply to her or her friends. By using her show to take on a local non-profit, she showed how “big media” can be a destructive force when it goes unchecked. The incident has turned into a PR disaster for everyone involved and all because of the selfishness of one person.

Thumbs Up: Tom Burgess, a crisis communications and marketing consultant and trainer and a former submarine officer and military affairs reporter for Navy Times and The San Diego Union-Tribune, who penned a column arguing against the Department of Defense’s plan to hire contractors to analyze and monitor media reporting and make recommendations.

“If defense contractors such as Raytheon, Boeing or Lockheed Martin do the job, that could mean the folks who bring you radars, war planes or helicopters also would advise top brass on media coverage of operations and hardware decisions. Having defense-industry professionals monitor media coverage of military operations not only is an obvious conflict of interest, it also raises concerns about how we build military leaders,” Burgess wrote.

The military has plenty of PR problems, but hiring contractors with ties to defense contractors would just cause more. I would not be surprised if the PR firms that have thrown their hat into the ring for this job already count defense contractors and/or lobbying groups among their clients.

It was heartening to read a PR professional (Burgess said he considered going after the contracts before thinking it through) talk about why utilizing external PR assets is perhaps not the best way for our military to get its point across to the public. The column is gutsy and it comes from someone with military, journalism and PR experience, so I hope the powers that be read it closely. Burgess shows that PR people have not just brains, but consciences also.

Thumbs Down: Frank Salvato of The New Media Journal, who caught got “astroturfing” on Newsvine, a popular community news site that was recently acquired by A suspicious Newsvine reader busted Salvato for promoting his own articles and the fact that his publication is linked to a public relations firm. Agribusiness giant Monsanto was recently busted for doing the same thing.

PR firms and companies who still astroturf (fake grassroots campaigns to simplify the idea) are going to continue to find themselves in trouble due to the increasing number of ultra-savvy Internet users. Sniffing out these campaigns is often not difficult, so why anyone bothers to continue the farce is beyond me.

Astroturfing is a negative mark on our industry and one that should be frowned on. It’s one reason why the PR industry continues to be held in such low esteem by the general public, and it hinders honest PR efforts.

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

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