A lesson in public relations ettiquette
January 23, 2009
An open letter to Deirdre Campbell, founding partner of Tartan Group public relations firm, after running into her at yet another presentation about a new mega-development on Vancouver Island. Can’t believe these guys are still planning new mega-developments on Vancouver Island – but oh well, here we go …
Tartan Group public relations
January 22, 2009
After speaking with you at the Open House in Langford last night, I feel I should address your confusion about my reasons for attending these open house meetings and so on.
As I told you last night, your assertion that I’m a public relations consultant is a rumour with no basis in fact. I’m a writer and an environmental advocate. I live in Langford and I go to open houses and council meetings as a volunteer. I spend hours studying the maps and doing the research and writing the press releases because I care deeply about what happens to Skirt Mountain. I do this all on my own time and I don’t get paid for any of it. I suppose the PR label is intended to discredit me or dismiss the legitimate environmental and heritage concerns I’m bringing forward. My adversaries’ reasoning seems to be that if I’m a public relations professional, nothing I say should be accepted as fact.
Hearing you parrot this statement was truly ironic, although I’m sure you didn’t mean it that way.
I should admit that I started this consultant rumour myself, by accident. About a year ago, I made a joke about being a “media consultant” for the tree sit in front of a couple young regional government staffers. They apparently repeated my joke as fact, because within weeks my exact words were thrown back at me by Highlands mayor Mark Cardinal and then by other local pro-development types.
It’s hilarious to consider that those who were so quick to accuse me of being a paid PR flack are now (apparently) paying genuine PR flacks like yourself to repeat the accusation.
I’m not sure why people like Cardinal are so interested in my motivations in the first place. My conversation with Cardinal began when I wrote about the work he was doing on the interchange site, his contract with Langford, and previous conflict of interest charges. Cardinal contacted me to clarify that he had been cleared of the conflict charges. Then he launched into this personal attack on my nonexistent PR career.
This incident provides a wonderful illustration of the difference between private and public interests. You see, I’m a private citizen. Even if I was funneling money directly from Greenpeace and the Rockefellers, this presents no ethical conflict because private citizens and groups can hire advocates and PR consultants to their hearts’ content. I’m sure you’ll agree that marketing and lobbying are standard practices for corporations, non-profits, and individuals with a cause to promote.
City mayors and councilors, on the other hand, are obligated to uphold certain ethical standards. If an elected official was paid by a private company to advocate for development, or profited directly from a development while making decisions favourable to the developers, those would be gross violations of the public trust, and definitely issues for public debate. I hope you can appreciate the distinction I am making between my private life and that of a public figure.
I’ve noticed that petty name-calling and smear campaigns often take the place of real discourse in local politics. Unfortunately, these tactics distract decision-makers from the important questions, such as: How can we protect Langford’s unique natural environment? And how can Langford residents have more input into planning and development decisions? Your clients face a constituency that is deeply divided on these and other crucial issues. I would suggest that leadership and integrity are called for, rather than divisive personal attacks.
When people call me names or spread lies about me, it does nothing to address the environmental and public process concerns. It only makes them look like bullies. In your position, you may have the opportunity to guide Langford toward building cooperation and consensus on public input and land-use decisions. That choice is certainly theirs to make.
I welcome your response, and wish you all the best in your endeavours.
Even if I was funneling money directly from Greenpeace and the Rockefellers, this presents no ethical conflict
Actually, that’s wrong. I’d have to resign as leader of the anarchists.
Deirdre is quick to assure me she meant no disrespect, but she still doesn’t get the joke. She writes: “As a public relations professional, I am very proud of the profession as I believe we have a role to ensure all voices are heard and that we foster two way communications, consultation and understanding.” I wonder how much Langford is paying her?
youre such a sweet smart-ass, zoe
I’m just getting warmed up. I’m glad Deirdre was on hand so I could sharpen my claws a bit. We had a bit more back and forth, and now she claims she saw a TV news broadcast that identified me as a PR consultant. Never happened.
Go on, click it…