On QR Codes & PR Working with Dictators…

It’s been an exceedingly busy couple of weeks for me, both personally and professionally. (A wedding coming up in two months will do that to you!) I have, though, been actively monitoring many of the issues bubbling up in the PR and marketing space, and I thought I’d very quickly weigh in with a few random thoughts on QR Codes and PR firms working with dictators (two totally disparate topics, I know): 

  • The “Will QR Codes ever go mainstream?” debate has taken off faster than that damn “Friday” song that everyone and their brother seemed to know about a few weeks back but me — until I actually took the time to read about it and immediately wished I had those five minutes of my life back. Tom Martin has written a terrific op-ed in Ad Age exploring whether QR Codes are a game-changer or just a passing fad. Tom has far more intelligent thoughts than me on this debate, but here are mine for the sake of trying:
    • The fact remains that most marketers realize now that QR Codes offer a tremendous opportunity to turn their offline marketing into a more engaging and interactive online form, but consumers either don’t care (which I don’t believe is the case) or they just don’t know enough yet and/or understand the true value of QR Codes. And much of that blame lies squarely on us as marketers. In a way, we have put the cart well before the horse when it comes to showing consumers the true value to them of using QR Codes around our brands.
    • In the U.S., we face the daunting task of finding a standard platform for QR Codes (unlike Europe and Japan, where QR Codes initially took off and a standard has more or less existed for years). Marketers in the U.S. are still confused about which platform is the best to use and why. At the moment, the lack of of one consistent platform is confusing to consumers, which muddles the overall value of QR Codes.
  • Re PR firms working with dictators and despots: Yeesh! Where to begin? This story gained early notoriety after Boston-based consulting firm Monitor Group’s reputational whitewashing work on behalf of the Libyan government was exposed in the Boston Globe It then took off in a big way in the UK when accusations arose that PR firm Bell Pottinger had on roster a myriad of dubious clients. My colleagues at PRSA have had a lot to say around this issue, but here are a few of my quick thoughts:
    • I’ve always been of the mind that as PR professionals, we should hold ourselves to higher standards. Ultimately, we represent both our clients’ best interests and those of the public. And that’s a tricky balance to maintain. And while everyone is entitled to have their side of the story told, as many in this industry have said time and again, I, personally, could not work for or represent a known dictator or his or her regime.
    • This issue seems to be even more pressing among professionals at the lower agency levels where which clients they work with and the type of work they perform often is not of their choice or input. There are many reasons why burnout in the PR and ad industries is quite high; one of those, I suspect, falls within the category of young pros working with clients they don’t feel comfortable representing. This is an area that as an industry, we will need to closely monitor in the months ahead.

Apologies for the quick roundup of thoughts this week. I hope to be back next week with some more cogent insight. Until then, what do you think: Are QR Codes worth the hype? And what’s so bad about PR pros representing dictators?