Innocent Till Proven Broke

Unsure. Maybe something like, Sometimes clients are so sleazy the best thing to do is walk away.Photo courtesy of

Sometimes clients are so sleazy the best thing to do is walk away.
Photo courtesy of

“Innocent till proven broke.” One of the least endearing sentiments in the high-stakes PR industry. Bottom line: Ethics become a measure of the client’s wallet, until the client can no longer pay the freight.

By its nature, Crisis & Reputation Management attracts skeptics. They are suspect of everything.
Cynicism is your Kevlar. It keeps you from falling victim to clients’ sincere delusions, convenient half-truths and, sometimes, outright lies. It’s healthy because it permits you to better protect clients (sometimes in spite of themselves).

But there’s a thin line between where cynicism ends and crassness begins. You can usually see the difference in the speaker’s eyes. Like numbers popping up on an old-fashioned cash register, sending just one signal to the brain: Ka-ching!

Similar issues permeate other professions. Recently, a prominent personal injury attorney was bemoaning how his colleagues carve out ever-more-obscure and less-justifiable areas to file suits against employers. Their sole purpose: To keep money flowing to the lawyers. “I’m proud of my profession, but what they’re doing makes me embarrassed to be one.”

The larger the PR firm, the squishier its ethics. Their justification for taking on questionable clients as long as they’re able to pay: They have a lot of bodies to keep busy, a lot of mouths to feed. Still, there’s something wrong with this picture.

Is it the duty of a PR firm to determine guilt or innocence. Absolutely not. Indeed, once they’re a client, you have a duty to defend them.

But what about prospective clients who ooze sleaziness? Can the PR firm be pre-emptive and walk away?

At the end of the day, it boils down to a simple calculus: Getting a few more shekels in your wallet — or being able to look at yourself in the mirror?


“Because Reputation Is Your Most Valuable Asset”

Gillott Communications is a Los Angeles-based public relations firm that specializes in high-stakes Crisis & Reputation Management. If you don’t already subscribe, please sign up for our blog Insights on High-Stakes PR. You can reach Roger Gillott directly at 310-826-8696.


One thought on “Innocent Till Proven Broke

  1. Roger, I’ve seen what you’re writing about. A few years ago in another state, a mega law firm had a conflict of interest that they ignored resulting in a hundred million dollar public work having been built with all manner of defects. Had the law firm done their job correctly, the project would not have been built at all. The government was threatening to refuse to accept the project because of all the problems with the construction. Facing multiple lawsuits, the law firm’s solution was to hire a PR firm and a lobbyist to make convince the public they were better off accepting the defective project rather than rejecting it and starting over elsewhere. It worked. The law firm and PR firm pocketed a huge windfall. Unfortunately, the bad guys win some times.

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