What if a Gaddafi Asks You to Repair His Country’s Image?

by Vianka McConville

I read an interesting article in Ad Age with the same headline.  The writer shares the dilemma between a country in desperate need of positive PR and potentially gaining a negative reputation from the job.  In the end, the article states Fleishman-Hillard did not accept Libya as a client due to an uncertain commitment by those in leadership … which got me thinking.

In a separate matter, Ogilvy did accept Mexico as a client at the beginning of 2012 after consistent U.S. national news coverage of serious drug violence in the country.  Mexico realized negative national coverage was hindering tourism and needed help to disseminate their message.

“We’re reaching out to leader media outlets like Bloomberg, Newsweek and CNN to help us tell our side of the story and get the facts straight,” Gerardo Llanes, CMO, Mexico Tourism Board said.  “We’re not denying that there are some areas of the country that have problems, but we’re saying if you hear about something bad in Chicago, it wouldn’t stop you from going to Los Angeles.”

Good analogy, but is it enough?  I personally declined an offer to go to Mexico at the beginning of the year due to negative media coverage. However, my opinion may not be widely shared.  By July 24, 2012, tourism to Mexico continued to increase.  One area even thrived as a vacation hot spot for fashion insiders in January.  Still, the country fights isolated events of violence and a recent U.S. warning to avoid a popular tourist spot.  Phenomenal PR does not make the core issue disappear.  How then, does the PR firm get ahead?

3 Responses to What if a Gaddafi Asks You to Repair His Country’s Image?

  1. amyminchin says:

    Great post, Vianka. We enjoyed having Roger Pynn speak to us at FPRA Pensacola last month, and I am glad I followed his tweet to your blog.

    I agree these calls are not easy to make sometimes and can seem like no win situations. I worked in banking PR for 13 years, but I didn’t feel an ethical dilemma because bank robberies sometimes occur within branches or, most recently, the fallout from the credit crisis. Granted I worked for one of the more reputable institutions (some others were not as prudent), but I think our task is to always be truthful in representing our clients’ position (as long as their position is honest and not deceptive). A few years ago BP was regularly hiring for PR and public affairs pros along the Gulf Coast. Taking a job like that could have made you unpopular in the community, but does the fact that the company made mistakes mean they don’t deserve to have their story (and the story of how they find solutions/make amends) told? Progress cannot happen without good communication. I’m not saying I could represent Libya and I am not packing my bags for Mexico, but I’m not sure I begrudge Ogilvy for what they are attempting to do. If they make safe travel tips a part of their message, even better.

    Thought-provoking topic, for sure.

  2. Roger says:

    Good points, Amy.

    Vianka has raised an important question for all PR professionals, and you point out something my mentor, the late Don McAllister, APR, made in a white paper he wrote back in the seventies. He said that just as everyone is due the best legal counsel they can hire, so, too, are organizations due good communications counsel. However, he said, public relations practitioners must weigh ethically each and every case they take on because in the court of public opinion they will be judged along with their clients.

    Thanks both for visiting TakingAim and for having me at your chapter last month.

  3. Vianka McConville says:

    Thanks for your feedback, Amy! I don’t know the answer to these situations, but I’m glad we are talking about them. I would love to be a fly on the wall when companies and potential PR firms have these tough conversations.

    Your previous PR experience sounds interesting. Having a wealth of knowledge in strong communications for banking must be invaluable now.

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