For those who saw the headlines about the case in which two PR people, Kathryn Kirton and Jamie Kaye, embezzled nearly £19,000 from their employer Activision, it is shocking stuff. Shocking because of the appalling fraud carried out but equally shocking due to the judge’s response to the practitioners involved because of the industry they work in.
On sentencing Judge Hillen stated: “In the world of PR you are surrounded by luxury items. That is a reality for people working in that industry. What it surprising is that cases like this are happening more and more often in your industry.”
The judge also commented that the defendant Jamie Kaye had been “corrupted” by his world of work.
It is a fact that fraud happens in every sector – it is certainly not unique to PR. What experience Judge Hillen has had of our sector is unclear (perhaps he was basing his view on something the defendants said), but it seems to me he confuses reality with Absolutely Fabulous. A great TV show, but no more than that. Perhaps it was Kirton’s fashion purchases, luxury hotel breaks and parties that threw him a bit.
A couple of points then to make. The first being that the “glamorous and luxurious” world of PR is pretty much a myth. In a industry in which the average starting salary can be as low as £12,000 and in which expenses' budgets are rare, the salary of most practitioners goes on their bills, not on trappings of wealth (although if you’ve earned them in an honest fashion, surely you can do what you want with your wages). Also, there is more to our industry than consumer PR, if that’s what the suggestion is.
Secondly, PR is an industry dominated by women. I can’t help but wonder whether the judge would have made the same comments, particularly in relation to the male defendant, if the opposite were true.
Finally, and most critically, the proposition in a high profile forum that PR-related crime is on the increase should be of concern to everyone within the sector. Speaking as the co-chair of the CIPR’s Professional Practices Committee, which handles all disciplinary matters, there is no evidence to suggest this is the case. On a more widespread industry basis, it is certainly yet to be proven.
CIPR members (which Kirton and Kaye were not) are required to sign up to a Code of Conduct, which sets out the standards expected of those who join the institute. This is enforced through disciplinary proceedings where necessary and very occasionally membership is withdrawn. Furthermore members are expected to follow a path of continuous professional development as they move through their career. As such CIPR membership is a badge of quality and a benchmark of best practice.
From our experience, practitioners are, in the most part, dedicated professionals who put the needs of their employers first. They are not superficial Bolly-drinkers who flash the cash more than others. This case is an unfortunate one, but the industry’s reputation should not be tarnished because of the behaviour of two individuals who have now rightly received suspended sentences for their crimes.