‘Thank you for smoking’ is a brilliant movie. For those who haven’t seen it, it follows the story of a lobbyist (played by Aaron Eckhart) for Big Tobacco in America. Eckhart’s character has the unenviable task of defending Big Tobacco and improving public perception of the tobacco industry in America and throughout the world. Eckhart is affable and charasmatic. He is not evil, if anything he might be a little amoral.
‘Thank you for smoking’ is the reason I got into PR/comms. I was intrigued and to put it bluntly, impressed by the way that Eckhart’s character could defend the indefensible and at the time as a naïve university student with no PR experience, I would have argued to the death that every organization deserves a voice whether it be Big Tobacco, or the NRA or even a website devoted entirely to facilitating extramarital affairs – Ashley Madison.
As a person in Tech PR, the Ashley Madison scandal has absolutely fascinated me on two accounts. I’m astounded that such a professional corporation could be so brazenly hacked – that’s the infosec in me coming out. Moreso, I am eagerly spectating various debates online and in real life that attempt to agree on one thing. Would you work for Ashley Madison?
The 21 year old me, fresh from watching the charismatic Eckhart in ‘Thank you for smoking’ would have answered with a resounding yes. Don’t get me wrong, I have always found the site deplorable but my naïve self once believed that every person and organization deserved a voice. I thought being a mercenary was cool. And then I grew up.
As a PR person our worth is dictated by some pretty important attributes. Firstly, trust. A PR person needs to be trustworthy, we need the media to trust in us and we need our clients to trust in us. Could you really expect a client to trust you when you are advocating a service built entirely upon distrust.
Secondly, pride. I am extremely proud of the clients I work on. I think they are all doing amazing things, some are literally changing the world for the better. My belief in what these clients do enables me to have spirited conversations with media and empowers me to tell their story to world. Journalists are pretty clever people, most have them have a strong eye for bullshit and to be telling a story that, as a representative you didn’t believe in would be opening yourself up for ridicule.
And thirdly, our own reputation and brand. Ultimately, our client list becomes a pretty strong indication of the company we keep and I personally take my own personal brand pretty seriously.
So, no. I would not work for Ashley Madison. I believe it goes against my own professional and personal brand which is based on trust and a belief in what I do. However, if your personal brand is one built on defending the indefensible or selling ice to the eskimos maybe you disagree?
Written by Sam Cox, Account Manager – Howorth Communications