This week on Inside PR, David and Terry discuss astroturfing and ethics in the world of public relations. Also, they talk more “Inside PRoper English,” and play another segment from Chris Clarke.

Show Notes

00:28 David introduces the show, and invites listener feedback through email at [email protected], the comment line at 206-600-4741, or leave a comment on the Inside PR show blog.

01:28 David mentions that he will be away for Inside PR #22, and in his place will sit Michael Seaton from The Client Side.

01:50 David mentions that there were feed problems with Inside PR #20 and apoligizes for any inconvenience this may have caused.

02:20 Terry talks about his role as co-host of For Immediate Release #165 with Shel Holtz.

03:50 Dave notes two comments on the Inside PR blog, one from Owen Lystrup picking up on our reference to sports PR in IPR #20, and the second from our friend Mark Blevis about the Inside PRoper English segment from the same show.

04:05 David brings up the topic for discussion this week, astroturfing. He brings up the Anti-Astroturfing campaign started by Trevor Cook and Paull Young.

06:10 David brings up his employer, Fleishman Hillard, and talks about the issues involved at the agency level with regards to astroturfing. David and Terry will deal with three different topics on astroturfing over the course of the episode: its definition, the term mobilization, and the importance of transparency.

07:35 Terry starts by talking about the importance of a clear and easily understood definition of the term “astroturfing”. He gets into definitions that can be found on the New PR’s Anti-Astroturfing page.

12:24 David moves on to the next issue with astroturfing: mobilization. He thinks the key is whether or not a group of people have a legitimate concern.

16:18 Terry gives an example from the pharmaceutical industry and looks forward to listener feedback on his example.

20:11 David wonders if charities can be guilty of astroturfing and invites listener feedback.

20:58 David moves on to the last matter, transparency. He thinks that if you don’t want your company known to be involved with something, you’re probably astroturfing.

23:55 David wraps up the conversation and invites listener feedback on the topic of astroturfing. Terry says there is plenty of grey area, and the only way to move things forward is by talking about them.

25:50 Chris Clarke talks about his toughest week of work at Thornley Fallis.

27:30 David and Terry briefly talk about the problems with Dell batteries of late.

28:17 Inside PRoper English for the week: penultimate

29:34 Terry closes the show and invites listener comments: through email at [email protected], call us on the comment line at 206-600-4741, or leave us a comment on the Inside PR show blog. Also, David and Terry welcome listeners to the Inside PR Blubrry site.

Music: our theme music is Streetwalker by CJacks, and is from the Podsafe Music Network; Roger Dey is our announcer.


  1. Hey guys!

    First time listening to the cast and lovin’ it.

    The topic is of specific interest for me because I have been approached in the past to plan and manage a campaign based solely on astroturfing.

    Happily, I turned down the request, but not after doing some diggin on the strategy behind the marketing tactics. When you gave the real-world example, and a great one it was, you were looking for elements in the situation that together would combine and define an astroturfing example. I think that the instance you described is not traditional astroturfing because although it had many elements that are required for the definition, it lacked one essential element.

    This cherry on top of the astroturfing sundae is always a planned, structured and collaborative effort. As an individual this would not, in my opinion, be defined as astroturfing.

    Keep the great casts coming. Between you, Jaffe and Mitch Joel and getting inspired to start the new marketing podcast from smack in the middle of the prairies here in Winnipeg!

  2. Terry Author

    Hey Kelly, thanks for dropping in. Interesting point you raise. The more one thinks about this issue, the more complex it seems to become. Thanks for your contribution and it’s nice to have a set of ears in the Peg…

  3. I got the info on you guys from Terry’s guest hosting of FIR. Episode 21 was my first listen. Excellent podcast, 30 minutes (my commute time to work), on topic with excellent examples.

    I truly appreciated the conversation on astroturfing, especially the case study/example. I work for The Salvation Army in Wisconsin as the Marketing/PR Director. This is an important issue and we have to tread lightly in how we tell our story. I’m very concerned about remaining authentic and transparent in how we involve donors and volunteers in sharing, spreading and experiencing the work of The Salvation Army.We thrive on grassroots efforts and need to make sure they’re authentic to maintain our credibility.

    I’ll be listening from now on. Thank you guys.

  4. Hi guys,

    I think this was an excellent show and I enjoyed listening to your considered analysis of the issues.

    Your thoughts have been guiding my thinking on the topic of late – deeply interesting stuff.

    I’ve just come across an excellent post on the difference between grassroots mobilization and astroturfing.

    It’s from Christie Goldman, APR, at the San Antonio Byline blog. It’s probably one of the clearest and best articulated explanations I’ve come across.

    Here’s an excerpt:
    Real grass is unpredictable. It doesn’t grow evenly. Sometimes, weeds pop up. Grass needs the right amount of water and sunlight. Often, it needs to be nourished by a little fertilizer. Working with it is messy business. It takes time to grow. But once it gets going, it is strong and long-lasting. Watered grass smells really good.

    Watered Astrotuf is slippery. Astrotuf is, by definition, artificial. It leads to injuries. Each Astroturf field has a hand-selected texture, hand-selected fiber, hand-selected pad, and hand-selected color. Astroturf is easily controlled.

    When public relations works with a grassroots campaign, it provides support. PR may provide resources or counsel. It’s complicated and it takes time.

    When public relations works with an Astroturf campaign, it does so to be in control. PR becomes deceptive and manipulative. It’s relatively easy and fast.

    Astroturfing clearly is not an ethical practice.”

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