Today's front-page Wall Street Journal story that questions the operation of an Irvine-based private equity firm could easily have all the same recent discussions about the propriety of a public relations professional representing a questionable client.
From "octomom" to Wall Street to arrested public officials. Public relations professionals are at the front lines of some of this year's major news. In some cases, these professionals, such as the Killeen Furtney Group and their early representation of "octomom," evaluated their situation and concluded they must resign the account or go to lengths to tell the world they did not represent them in the first place, as was pointed out in a recent PR Week editorial.
Now, we have famed crisis communications specialist Michael Sitrick representing an investment management company in California.
First, let's be fair. Danny Pang of Private Equity Management Group has not been charged with any crime. He is, however, the subject of a highly researched investigative piece by the Journal. For many of us who have handled a Wall Street Journal story, or another news investigative piece, we know we are bound to provide professional representation to a client in these kinds of situations.
We who are members of PRSA are bound by our code of conduct to represent clients by following a range of ethical ideals and guidelines.
This sort of high-stakes situation is perfectly suited to Sitrick, who has become the "go-to" firm for many high-profile individuals and companies when a crisis erupts. Sitrick's business is doing well. In recent years, he has hired a couple of highly respected former news reporters and editors. And while Sitrick has actually earned respect from many news reporters, there are a few in our profession who privately question his usually aggressive and assertive style with news organizations. But you cannot deny Sitrick is good at what he does.
But Sitrick's representation of Pang, and perhaps a few of his past clients, also raises many of the same questions and concerns that faced Joann Killeen and Mike Furtney in representing Nadya Suleman, the mother who gave birth to eight babies and since become a tabloid sensation.
The point here is to frame the discussion. The sniping and criticism that were leveled at Killeen and Furtney - the "how-could-they-represent-this-person" accusations from PR colleagues - could easily be aimed toward Sitrick and taking on his latest client.
On its face, The Wall Street Journal story raises some serious questions about the integrity of Mr. Pang, not the least of which includes the circumstances of his first wife's murder.
However, if we are to have intelligent discourse about the issues surrounding a PR professional's representation of a potentially questionable client, then we should have a fair examination of real and potential scenarios. The PR profession should equally evaluate, debate and examine the Sitrick/Pang relationship as it did the Killeen-Furtnery/Suleman one. That is, if you want to have a debate and discussion about this.
The point here is to also withhold judgment until the facts are in. In the octomom case, the public and the PR industry still do not know all the facts. They will get more inside information when Joann and Mike get to tell their story.
Certainly, in the Pang/PEM case, this story is just now unfolding. But, I predict, a debate and discussion will eventually arrive in our profession about this one.