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.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Action on Payola?: Richard Edelman doesn’t pull any punches in his coverage of the latest payola scandal, which we mentioned briefly on Thursday. And he suggests a remedy:

“I am calling for the key associations in the PR business around the world to consider licensing PR firms in their countries to do business…. We need to… have CEOs of PR firms sign onto a code of proper behavior that forbids payments to reporters, that mandates transparency on arrangements with third party experts and that bars a media company from having a licensed PR firm in the family. These standards must be enforceable, with the group given power to expel transgressors, then to demand a public apology and remanding of questionable earnings to the aggrieved client. I will attend the February 5 board meeting of PRSA and make this proposal. Can others who are similarly outraged and frustrated please help me with the wording of such a resolution, so that we have the means to protect our precious profession. Thanks as always.”

I wish Richard luck, but I’m not sure there’s anything to be done. The reason the PRSA and the Council of PR Firms have toothless codes of ethics is because any code that has teeth leaves an organization open to legal action for restraint of trade. And even if PRSA could expel members for this kind of sleazy behavior, being drummed out of the PRSA is not exactly the death of a PR career. Most of the best and most successful PR people in America are not members to begin with.

I’ve always been opposed to licensing of PR people—I just don’t believe you can license something that is essentially a first amendment right—but this succession of payola scandals has made me wish, for the first time, that we had some way of drumming people who engage in this kind of media corruption (starting with the folks at the Lincoln Group) out of our profession.

Sadly, I suspect we’ll have to settle for another unenforceable statement of principles. Right now, even that would be a step in the right direction if it brings some clarity to the issue.


  • At 4:23 PM, Blogger Scott Baradell said…

    Wow...this is like the Vulcan mind meld. I just wrote a post making the exact same point. Mediocre minds think alike...

  • At 10:29 PM, Blogger Mike Bawden said…


    While licensing PR firms and PR practitioners may not be enforcable, let alone legal, the solution may be found in the hands of the clients - right next to their checkbooks. If clients required their agencies subscribe to an industry code of ethics and fired the ones who didn't live up to the code, there would be economic incentive for PR firms and their practitioners to comply.

    Enforcement of a free market system like this would be difficult at best, to be sure, but it might be worth further exploration.

    Just a few thoughts.


    Mike Bawden
    Brand Central Station


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