Holmes Report Blog

The Holmes Report blog focuses on news and issues of interest to public relations professionals. Our main site can be found at www.holmesreport.com.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Is Deception So Much Easier Than Truthfulness?: Every time I read one of these stories, I wonder about this. Setting up fake front groups to mobilize consumers is not only hard work, it’s dumb… for all the reasons enumerated in this Sacramento Bee article.

Basically, Allergan, the maker of Botox, hired Burson-Marsteller’s Direct Impact subsidiary to help mobilize Californians against a stupid state law that would have singled out its product for sales tax. Direct Impact set up a group called Citizens Against Unfair Health Care Taxes—they must have a file of these dumb, generic “citizen” group names—and started calling people asking them to write complaints about the proposal--without mentioning that they were working for the drug company.

Some citizens did so. And the one who is the subject of the Bee article now feels used. (Because she was.) “They were dishonest,” she says. “I fell for it. I would like an apology…. They should be investigated.”

So now—if the story is true, and the guy who spoke to Lowry really didn’t discuss the company's role in Citizens Against Unfair Health Care Taxes—Allergan and Direct Impact have alienated the very people they would like to have on their side in the coming battle, and undermined the effectiveness of any genuine, citizen grassroots effort to fight this silly sales tax by creating the impress that it's all a company smokescreen. It’s not only unethical and deceitful; it’s counter-productive.

And why? How difficult would it have been to call people up and say: “Hey, we’re from Allergan. We make Botox. And there’s this new proposal to tax our product. If you use our product, that means you’ll pay a little more. Now, I know you probably don’t like us, because we’re a big company and no one likes big companies, but here’s an issue where your interests and our interests are the same. Maybe we can work together. Maybe we can get this proposal changed. And maybe, in the process, you could learn to trust us a little more.”

That’s public relations. It builds relationships for the long term. What Allergan did is spin. It’s transactional, short-term. And it destroys relationships.

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