Conflicts of interest can sneak up on you. The obvious basic definition of a PR conflict of interest is being involved in multiple interests where one could possibly corrupt your decision making of the other. A very obvious example would be working for a video game company while you own stock in their major competitor. The possibility exists that your PR decisions would not be as honest in this situation, as lowering your employers’ sales might increase your own bank account.
Hillary Clinton’s chief strategist Mark Penn fell from grace back in 2008 when, despite Hillary’s anti-free trade stance, he met with Columbian officials. Word got out that Penn’s firm represented the Columbian government, and in the end he was forced to admit he went there to discuss the free trade agreement
When the dust settled, Penn was out as chief strategist and his firm lost the Columbian government account. A total fail. The situation could have been avoided very easily if Penn had the good sense to send someone else from his firm to Columbia about the account. Or, at the very least, had total disclosure about the situation. Either way, his conflict of interest led him to make a decision that benefited him the most, not either of the people he was representing.
Another recent example occurred when the magazine Variety, which claims to be totally objective in its reporting of movies and television news, was paid a large sum of money by an independent film studio to promote their latest film. Variety took the dough but printed a scathing review anyway. When the studio complained, Variety retracted the review (keeping the money), THEN reprinted the scathing review!
Result: super lawsuit. Variety’s claims of impartiality fell apart like tissues at a Nicholas Sparks movie.
Ways to Mitigate a Conflict of Interest
How do you avoid these conflicts? They’re going to arise at some point, it’s inevitable. Your PR firm employer picks up a new client, Bob’s Assault Weapons ‘r Us, and you’re extremely anti-gun. What do you do?
In the case you can’t completely take yourself out of the situation (your PR firm is severely understaffed), don’t hide the fact you’re anti-fun. Attempting to run a campaign while hiding information like that might hurt you in the long run. Being open and honest about it might spark discussions on how to run the campaign more sensitively.
Also, you can recuse yourself from any big decision making in the campaign. Bob’s Assault Weapons ‘r Us wants to know if their current billboard is too graphic, but you know you won’t be a fair judge. You can still run the campaign but let others make the final call.
This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (http://www.ereleases.com), the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download a free copy of the PR Checklist – a 24 point list of Press Release Dos and Don’ts here: http://www.ereleases.com/prchecklist.html