Taking Your Eye Off the Ethics Ball – Learning from Ketchum’s Faux Pas
Ketchum PR recently landed itself in ethical hot water while trying to promote client ConAgra Foods. The key issue was an attempt to “fool” food bloggers by inviting them to a NY event hosted by chef George Duran (“Ultimate Cake Off” on TLC) by substituting freshly-made foods with ConAgra prepared foods. Anybody remember the famous Folgers commercial where consumers were duped into drinking instant coffee at a fancy restaurant?
While the tactic is far from new, it’s a different world. And, while it may be fun to fool consumers over a cup of coffee, attempting to pull the wool over the eyes of food bloggers is trickier and fraught with consequences. While Ketchum clearly got a black eye for the ethical lapse, a bigger lesson to be learned is how the tactic backfired on the client and its intended messaging.
What surprised me however is that it happened to Ketchum. It’s a firm that I have a very high regard for and that has set the standard for ethics in the public relations industry. After the Armstrong Williams debacle, the firm instituted a rigorous ethics training module it gives to all employees on an annualized basis, and CEO Ray Kotcher has been a strong advocate for ethics in our industry.
Clearly, someone took their eye off the ethics ball. The question is how? As far as I know, Ketchum has training in place and a good reporting procedure for perceived ethical lapses. This is a fairly large client and a program that was to last five days…the fact that no-one on the account team saw a red flag is surprising. Perhaps it’s not just the agency personnel who need the training, but clients as well. If that were the case, perhaps the client would have caught it before the lasagna hit the pan.