I’ve been around the traps long enough to know how the world of PR works. It’s not all Ab Fab, celebrity endorsements and vats of champagne. When a PR person is representing a company, they have to put the best spin on its activities – good or bad.
You could say PR practitioners are the original fake news artists, harsh though that might be. But their role is not like that of a journalist (or a Consumer NZ researcher), which is to uncover facts. Theirs is to present a “truth” from their client’s perspective or even to obfuscate a truth so no one can find out what’s right.
We came across an insidious example of this on our website this week, in the form of a negative comment about our operations as well as Flick Electric – a company that has achieved Consumer Trusted status. Flick also topped our completely independent survey of energy providers. It’s fair to say its customers are very satisfied.
We love comments and reviews. They help us improve what we do. They often provide good story ideas. This comment did neither. But it did raise suspicion. The reviewer rang our office shortly after it was posted, asking for it to be taken down. Not because of any remorse I suspect, but because her name was attached to it. It didn’t take long (a Google search) to find out she worked for a PR company, which counted a competing electricity retailer among its clients.
I’m not so naïve to think competitors wouldn’t make comments on our site, just like they do on every review site. But what concerned me was the questioning of Consumer NZ’s integrity. One of the beauties of belonging to us is that people trust our advice. We’ve built a business on it. I rang the PR woman who posted it. I wanted to know whether this was company practice (we’re not talking a small PR firm here). After some bluster, she apologised. She broke down. She said she realised, after it had been posted, it was foolish. Her managing director then phoned. She apologised too. The posting breached their own guidelines, she said.
I’ve decided not to name the woman or the company. I’m giving them the benefit of the doubt. Maybe it was a mistake. But maybe it was a mistake because they got caught. I’ll let you judge.