WEDNESDAY 19 FEB 2014 3:34 PM


In a priceless surprise for Telegraph journalist Tim Walker, an email from House PR documenting the terms of his attendance at the Brit Awards this evening. His surprise turned into a priceless surprise for the Press Gazette, which was forwarded the House PR email. In the hours since, the #pricelesssurprise hashtag has gone haywire, though not quite in the way MasterCard expected it to. Most critics are pointing to the unsuitable tactics used by House PR to get a journalist to promote its client. Public relations, however, excels most often when it builds solid working relationships with journalists. Had such research and time been carried out by the PR, such a massive gaffe may not have occurred.

Walker tweeted, “Please fellow journalists do not agree to the absurd conditions for covering @BRITAwards. I've even just been told what I should tweet. No.” The fact that he found the requests absurd points to both poor targeting and poor media relations tactics. The question really comes down to ‘Should PR professionals tell journalists what to write or work to make what they promote appealing to a writer?’

While the incident has wreaked havoc on MasterCard’s sponsorship of the Brit Awards – a social media crisis comms case study in its own right – it draws attention to the ethics and standards to which public relations professionals attend and the consequences that arise when they do not adhere to such guidelines.

The PRCA has defined guidelines in its professional and spamming charter that speak to this issue. The latter reads, “Practitioners should not ‘guarantee' coverage unless it is contributed in nature or agreed by the publication for a particular purpose, but even then other editorial circumstances may dictate that the coverage does not appear.”

PRCA director-general Francis Ingham adds, “Our Professional Charter states that all members have a positive duty to observe the highest standards in the practice of public relations. We also state that a member should not engage in any practice nor be seen to conduct themselves in any manner detrimental to the reputation of the Association or the reputation and interests of the public relations profession. Furthermore, a member has responsibility at all times to deal fairly and honestly with the media.”