Thursday, July 09, 2009

No PRSA Sanctions for Seyferth

The Traverse City Record EagleGrand Rapids Press and other papers in the state reported last week that Meijer settled with Acme Township for $75,000 in a case involving election law violations mixed in with a new store proposed for the township.

The settlement reportedly includes an agreement by the local citizens groups not to sue Meijer or its partners, which includes Grand Rapids PR Firm Seyferth and Associates, which had served as PR counsel to Meijer in the Traverse City new store efforts.

While this settles the legal matter, some still wonder about the PR ethics. It had been alleged that Seyferth staff set up a pro-Meijer citizens group and did not disclose their involvement, which appears to be a 'front group' in violation of the PRSA Code of Ethics.

I was told by T. Michael Jackson, a PRSA Fellow who lives in Traverse City, that he asked PRSA about this and received the following response from Bob Frause, Chairman of PRSA's Board of Ethics  and Professional Standards:

any action we may take against Ginny Seyferth was predicated on her being convicted of a criminal or civil offense in a court of law.  I am assuming that the out of court settlement was not public and there was no admission of guilt regarding public relations practices that were in opposition to the PRSA Code of Ethics.  That being the case there is not much more to publicly say about this matter.  The PRSA Code of Ethics has no provisions for sanctions or public rebukes.  Based on the information available, I believe we commented to the media as far as we could.  If the State Attorney General presses the matter regarding violations of the state campaign finance law and finds the Ms. Seyferth did indeed violate state laws then we would be more than happy to resurrect the matter.

So there you have it. We may never know the "rest of the story." But the public has been left with the impression that PR is a shady practice designed to manipulate them. I fight that perception and defend the profession almost daily. But one single incident like this tends to negate years of arguments in defense of public relations. That's been my beef all along.

This is all the more reason for public relations professionals to practice ethically and openly, to demonstrate that PR is about the honest development of mutual relationships. Or, as the 6th provision in the Code of Ethics urges, to "enhance the profession." 

1 comment:

pedalGR said...

I think for the professional organization not to act in this situation appears bad for the industry among those who are paying attention. Admittedly that number may be small.

I think it sends the message, "You can act however you want and possibly violate our ethics standards, but as long as you settle out of court and don't admit any wrongdoing, we don't mind."

And as you said, it just reinforces the negative perception of the PR industry if a member or a member's staff can do something like this and not receive any sort of punishment.