One unspoken law rules the PR industry: the client’s interests always come first. And if the interests of a certain client happen to directly contradict the interests of a former client? Well, that’s just the way the game is played.
Still, we can’t help but feel a little awkward when reading about the recent adventures of Washington, DC lobbying firm The Glover Park Group. Why? Because the group, which was founded in 2001 by a team of White House veterans, made a name for itself in 2008 by creating a media campaign aimed at the ethanol industry in the interest of persuading the government to eliminate certain tax benefits that heavily favored the producers of ethanol, aka grain alcohol, aka corn. In case you haven’t heard, corn equals big money and big politics in those heartland “swing states” you hear so much about—which is why no politician in his or her right mind will risk inducing the wrath of big ethanol.
But Glover Park recently performed what we like to call “a complete 180” by signing on to perform PR work for The Renewable Fuels Association, a government lobbying group that represents…you guessed it, the ethanol industry.
In 2008, Glover Park promised to “obliterate whatever intellectual justification might still exist for corn-based ethanol among policy elites”, thereby earning the disdain of everyone whose fortunes depend on the yellow stuff. Iowa Senator/corn booster Chuck Grassley–he of the surreal Twitter feed–called it “a smear campaign” and blamed Glover Park’s association with the Democratic Party. So what made the members of the group change their minds? Could it have been money?
Of course PR pros sometimes have conflicting interests—and lobbying firms, like lawyers, may find themselves supporting parties that sit on opposing sides of the same debate. But the story inspires nothing but cynicism: Is this really how politics works in the world’s most powerful democracy?