When Parents Misbehave

Many critics of the PR industry hold up corporate or political PR as the poster children for “evil spin” or ethical malfeasance. Little attention is given to the multitude of NGOs whose growing PR sophistication rivals many of the best agencies, corporate communications departments and political “war rooms.”

We all know about PETA’s tactics for splashing its animal rights cause du jour in the national media. Yesterday, Greenpeace, which has seen its share of memorable media photo ops over the years, yesterday took aim at one of America’s most recognized and seemingly benign consumer product icons – the Gorton’s of Gloucester fisherman. The issue: illegal whaling.

“We’re shifting the campaign focus from the high seas to the supermarket shelves. We’re asking consumers to be aware of who funds the whale hunters, and to let them know that whaling is bad for business,” Greenpeace Chief Executive Steve Shallhorn said in a statement.

I found this story curious since Gorton’s as a company has never engaged in whaling. The Japanese company that owns Gorton’s apparently has and does. It’s one thing for a group to directly target the makers (and advertising beneficiaries) of a consumer product, but something different when an activist group targets an environmentally responsible , yet consumer-facing company whose foreign parent misbehaves.

Dave Weber, Gorton’s VP-environmental affairs, told O’Dwyer’s that Gorton’s “has neither engaged in whaling activities, nor killed a single whale in its 156-year history, and never will.”

How far can Gorton’s go in defending its corporate reputation without alienating its Japanese parent? What kind of coordination exists between parent and child in dealing with this crisis? Fishy predicament.