Once again, the ethics of the PR profession have been threatened for the sake of publicity.
It happens often, of course. People and organizations have been purposely provocative for publicity’s sake since the birth of communication. Courting controversy is a proven technique for getting attention. From dramatic pseudo-events like the Boston Tea Party in 1773 to PETA’s outrageous 2003 “Holocaust on a Plate” ads to Donald Trump’s candidacy, publicity is the goal even if the attention is negative.
It’s this low-hanging branch of the public relations business that gives PR a bad name. While nearly all the professionals I know work ethically, intelligently and carefully, always keeping their firms’ and clients’ long-term best interests front and center, others look for the “quick hit.” For them, trending for a few hours on Twitter becomes a publicity home run.
This week’s example of this practice is Kylie Jenner’s cover photo for Interview magazine. Jenner was photographed in several provocative poses and outfits, but the cover shot of her sitting expressionless in a wheelchair went viral, outrage splashing across the Internet. Pam Wade Kenner, whose niece has cerebral palsy, tweeted, “Glamorizing the chair angers me…So incredible that nobody stood up and told Kylie Jenner that this was a bad idea.” Carol Glazer, the president of the National Organization on Disability, told “Today” said, “We hope that the next step here, in the media, is to bring into the mainstream really sexy women who are wheelchair users — not just Jenner, who is using a wheelchair as a prop. [The cover photo] leaves an unfortunate impression.” “It’s deeply disturbing,” said Emily Smith Beitiks of the Longmore Institute on Disability.
After the controversy boiled up, Interview issued this statement: “Our intention was to create a powerful set of pictures that get people thinking about image and creative expression, including the set with the wheelchair. But our intention was certainly not to offend anyone.”
Was this purposely provocative, a cover photo designed to create controversy? Is it effective publicity or bad PR? Does it cross the line of what are good, ethical public relations practices? Your thoughts?