Over the weekend I opened my local paper to find this headline in the top fold of the Metro section:
“Probe targets gritty PR consultant“
It seems that a local PR Consultant, T.J. Connolly, may have “illegally funneled campaign contributions through his wife, employees and other clients last spring to two candidates for Bexar Metropolitan Water District's board,” a local utility that contracts with Connolly at about $10,000 a month.
The article didn't come as a complete surprise since the reporter had called the leadership of our local chapter of the Public Relations Society of America late last week for comment.
Connolly was quoted in the article saying, “I've had people say to me that I approach (PR work) like Texas Hold ‘Em: I go all in for the client.”
But I wonder if this “all out” advocacy philosophy led to Connolly's downfall?
It isn't the first time that T.J. Connolly has catapulted into the headlines by using a smoke and mirrors strategy for his client.
In 2003, the year after I moved to Texas, Connolly was representing local company Star Storage. The company owns a couple of billboards in a well positioned stretch of highway. The city wanted them taken down, so Star Storage responded by putting up a picture of an infected toenail and the naked back of an obese (and hairy) man. The local press went wild, and Connolly didn't exactly win friends.
At the time, the local board responded by writing a letter to the editor that was never published, but a portion of which was quoted in the current article.
“Blackmail is not an accepted or approved tactic by the (PRSA), and those of us who are members of this profession are insulted by a person who would stoop to such practices and call it public relations,” Christie Goodman wrote.
Connolly admits that in the case of Star Storage he might have gone too far.
Could it be a pattern?
From my reading, his ethical behavior violates several of the PRSA Code of Ethics provisions, but Connolly is not a member of the organization. He seems to be a force unto himself.
And isn't that what is wrong with public relations today? Some of the people who practice it have lost sight of what it was intended to be, a two-way interaction between an organization and its publics. They do whatever seems convenient at the time to “win” for the client.
Coincidentally, PRSA celebrates Ethics Month in September. It looks as if there will never be a shortage of need to remind ourselves that part of client work is having the backbone to stand up against client demands for unethical behavior.
tags: Ethics, Public+Relations, PR