‘Sweaty-gate’ leaves a bad smell for PRs and journalists

More than an embarrassing slip up, this fake case study should be widely and publicly condemned

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OK, it was the “silly season”. But one story dominated the PR industry during August: “Sweaty-gate”. Despite its silly name and silly-sounding theme (a medical condition which apparently causes excess sweating) the essence of this story – “PR fakery” – has serious implications for both PRs and journalists.

It began with a tabloid story about a young woman – Esme de Silva – who “suffered” from this embarrassing condition. She claimed that an anti-perspirant called Odaban helped her overcome the problem. The story was distributed by the Press Association and subsequently appeared in the Daily Mirror, the Daily Mail and the Huffington Post. The problem was, as PRWeek discovered after a tip-off, that was not the sufferer’s real name. She was Leandra Cardozo, an executive at Fuel PR, which just happened to be working for Odaban.

Despite pretty much everyone in the industry gossiping about these revelations, very few stepped forward to condemn them. Privately, many journalists and PRs admitted that this was unlikely to be an isolated example. Many media in these straitened times are tempted to turn a blind eye to the blurred lines between promotion and “journalism”. PA is a highly trusted provider of content, and few newspaper editors are motivated to scrutinise its features. 

So it is tempting for some PRs to push their luck. The trouble is that when the PR industry fails to condemn such practices strongly, it gives credence to clichés about the profession, such as “spin” and “puffery”.

The truth is that PR is actually a much more credible and professional business than it was in the 1990s, with organisations investing much more in the management of their reputations and communications. Even more reason, then, that when examples such as “Sweaty-gate” arise they must be roundly condemned and hard lessons learned.

Danny Rogers is group editor-in-chief of Brand Republic Group

 

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