Small and medium-sized public relations firms aren't permitted to represent conflicting brands. We never have been. And, we never will be.
In fact, I'll bet Peppercom alone has turned away millions of dollars of potential billings because an existing or prospective client simply can't abide the thought of our firm representing both her, and her rival. And, I respect that.
But, when it comes to larger agencies, the conflict fog settles in faster than an unexpected ice and wind storm on an exposed summit in the Andes.
Take Kellogg's. Please.
The recent firing of Weber in favor of Edelman because one agency's so-called conflict brand was more acceptable would be funny if it weren't so sad. As a result, Edelman's hastily created conflict brand is now representing Kellogg's while Weber's conflict brand watches from the sidelines. It's all such nonsense.
Because, as the attached article explains, Edelman has MORE direct conflicts with Kellogg's than Quito, Ecuador, has carbon monoxide.
The whole client conflict issue is an embarrassment to our industry. There should be one hard and fast rule that applies equally to small and medium firms as well as the Houdini-like, quick change artists otherwise known as large agencies. The latter are allowed to suddenly create a conflict agency out of whole cloth and claim it's a completely separate firm in a separate space with a separate P&L. Yeah, sure. And, there are still hidden weapons of mass destruction hidden somewhere in Iraq.
One final bone of contention on the conflict agency front. I think it's a total travesty for the PR awards' programs to name conflict agencies as winners in the agency of the year competitions. Talk about an uneven playing field!
Conflict agencies are created with tender, loving care by their parent company owners, nurtured with parent company resources, staffed by parent company personnel, provided parent company infrastructure support AND reap the ongoing bounty of pass-along conflict clients and prospects from the parent company.
How, in god's name, is it fair to name a conflict agency as being better than, say, a Coyne, Padilla Spear, CRT/Tanaka or any other truly independent firm that was created by REAL entrepreneurs who sought no quarter and gave none?
Entrepreneurs are the true heroes in this crazy quilt, Wild West PR world of ours in which large agencies play by one set of rules and the rest of us are bound by the vestiges of some hazy, unwritten codas that cost us dearly.
Postscript: this blogger knows for a fact that one top 10 PR firm represents two of the Big Four accounting firms. And, there are no conflict brands involved either. So, riddle me this: why do the PR trades trumpet the Kellogg's win while conveniently overlooking a breach of conduct as serious as this one?
Repman is now issuing the same advisory to readers and industry leaders alike. The conflict rules and regulations (as well as the awards' programs that favor big agencies) need to be changed in order to assure truth, justice and a level playing field. I'd like to be involved in suggesting, if not shaping, those changes (and welcome others industry leaders to step forward as well).
I'll end with a quote made famous by the Bette Davis character in 'All About Eve'. At the beginning of what was sure to be a contentious dinner party, she warns the partygoers, "Fasten your seat belts. We're in for a bumpy night."
And a tip o' Rep's cap to Ken Jacobs for this idea.
Also, Rep extends great thanks to Deb Brown and her traveling troupe of guest bloggers for filling in while I pursued the physical, emotional and spiritual highs and lows found in the Ecuadorean Andes.