PR’s Wild Week: Growth, Reputation-Management and Scientology

Jul 25, 2012

By: Vanessa Horwell, Founder and Chief Visibility Officer of ThinkInk

OK. I know it’s Wednesday, July 25 and this blog post is a tad tardy, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t chime in here to say that last week was quite the wild PR extravaganza! The Holmes Group, a PR industry news website, reported that according to the International Communications Consultancy Organization, economic growth in the PR industry outpaced that of the overall economy in many of its member countries last year.

On the same day, the Public Relations Society of America and five university business schools announced a program that will teach future CEOs the fundamentals of reputation-management and the Ralph Lauren Corporation apologized profusely to politicians and a public miffed over revelations that the fashion giant outsourced production of the US Olympic team’s opening-ceremony uniforms to China.

And, of course, we have the non-stop media circus surrounding the Tom Cruise-Katie Holmes divorce, complete with reams of speculation in the tabloids, celebrity rags and websites and on TV as to what role Scientology may, or may not, have played in the high-profile split.

Add this to the many PR nightmares that have beset this controversial and litigious “church” for years.

Who could forget the award-winning 1991 TIME Magazine exposé “The Thriving Cult of Greed and Power,” which characterized the group as a “Mafia-like” “racket”?

Just this past February, Agence France-Presse reported that a Paris appeals court upheld the 2009 fraud conviction against the Church of Scientology for “fleecing” members – a fancy word for swindle.

Even Jennifer Miscavige, the niece of the organization’s chairman, David Miscavige, has denounced Scientology, founding the website after defecting in 2005.

Personally, I don’t see Scientology as a religion. I see it as a cult. What kind of real religion charges people a lot of money for “enlightenment,” which in this case consists of a space opera about some evil intergalactic overlord named Xenu who blew up a bunch of people with hydrogen bombs 75 million years ago? Please.

But I digress.

I’ve had a particularly large amount of PR foul-up stories to comment on in the past few weeks. It’s hard to keep track of all the ways in which prominent people and organizations have been, so to speak, sticking their feet in their mouths, by not being mindful of what came out of their mouths.

We’ve got the Wal-Mart PR rep who posed as a reporter and got caught, “Dr. Drew” Pinsky revealed to have quietly taken money from GlaxoSmithKline to talk up its antidepressant Wellbutrin on his show, Ralph Lauren and the outsourcing flap and now Scientology, which continues to bemuse and befuddle.

I guess the good news is that were it not for these blunders, the uplifting PR industry economic report wouldn’t be as strong, right? Clearly our presence is needed now more than ever. But even so, let’s hope the new biz school PR course helps avert some future train wrecks! Two major communications derailments in one week and several only a few weeks before, are a little too much!

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