The news of Harthras case and UP government’s role-play behind the curtains of a Mumbai based PR firm went on to create egregious criticism on social media. A Mumbai-based public relations firm Concept PR got on to email journalists across the country affirming that it was distributing a press release “received from Uttar Pradesh Government”. The fact that a public relations firm was pushing the Uttar Pradesh government’s line that the woman in Hathras had not been raped caused some serious distress on social media. This has made me think a lot about the credibility that the PR profession maintains between people and their clientele. How much a PR firm is ethically committed to a client especially when the client is a government? How much trustworthiness will that government leave with when the public figure out the fact that the government is pushing their game through spin doctors?
This incident brought me back to another case study that I read a year ago. The story of how Britain’s most audacious PR firm collapsed overnight due to their unethical practice. Bell Pottinger was one of the extraordinary PR firms in the history of Britain’s spin-doctoring game. Lord Tim Bell co-founder of Bell Pottinger, who was the PR adviser of Margaret Thatcher, former PM of the UK, his PR life was not less than the story of the house of cards.
His company had a great reputation for controlling risks in an unusual way which specialized in polishing the reputation of such people as General Augusto Pinochet; Asma al-Assad, the wife of the Syrian dictator; the President of Belarus Alexander Lukashenko and so on. The firm also made millions of pounds trying to persuade the people of Iraq after the U.S.-led coalition invaded by using different communications techniques. The company also represented Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympic athlete, who was accused of the murder. It was no wonder that Lord Bell was described as ‘ a Geo-political fixer’ in the PR world.
In the year 2016, the PR Company was hired by three Gupta brothers but this proposal ended up wrecking the company’s own reputation. The firm steered a racially divisive campaign for Oakbay Investments, a company owned by the infamous Gupta brothers, Atul, Ajay and Rajesh. The Guptas wanted to use PR as a bulwark to create a distraction and used Pottinger PR grenades as a chief manipulating fallacy. When former South African president Jacob Zuma’s conspiracy with the Guptas came out, the campaign got discovered in front of the public. The firm was accused of spreading racial hatred and race-baiting through black networking and fake websites. Numerous fake Twitter accounts were created to manipulate people by using the narrative which they called ‘While monopoly capital’ propaganda. Was Bell Pottinger doing the best for their client by inducing racism in an entire country?
The whole incident had tarnished the firm’s reputation and they had to face a complaint lodged with the Public Relations and Communications Agency (PRCA) in London that carried ahead an investigation with shocking discoveries. Bell Pottinger collapsed mere months afterward.
This is not just about one company or a person but an acknowledgment that how much the spin doctors have changed over the period of time and the level of cynical works that they are up to right now. PR as a profession is highly integrated with ethics and truthful practices. Public Relations is all about a powerful idea, a clear brief, an impactful impression and a well-designed strategy – all distill down to the crystal clear framing of words or speech. PR as a profession is always responsible to the public as a community to create meaningful communication on behalf of their client. But PR firms are also highly committed to their stakeholders on different levels. The ultimate aim of hiring a PR company is to clean up your reputation but does that really gave them the license to manipulate people with blatant lies?
This blog post originally appeared on Vani Krishna’s blog: vaanikrishna.wordpress.com
Vani is a part of the Class of 2021 of PG Programme in PR and Corporate Communications at SCoRe Mumbai. She pursued her bachelor’s degree from Mangalore University. She is passionate about Sports and Arts. She has done an internship in a Kerala based PR firm Davidson PR & Communications, and with the Department of Information and Public Relations- (I&PRD) Kerala Government. She can be reached at @VK_thefernweh on Twitter, and as Vani Krishna on LinkedIn.