A coalition, founded in 1994 by Hill & Knowlton, that purports to educate the public about the dangers of sun exposure. The bottom-line advice given by the PFSPA is "liberally apply a sunscreen... to all exposed parts of the body before going outdoors." To all appearances, a benign organisation with nothing but the public's best interest at heart.

It may seem strange that PFSPA do not suggest wearing long clothes or cutting back on outdoor activities, both of which would offer complete sun protection. Indeed, their literature and Video News Releases emphasize tanning, with pictures of happy sun-worshippers relaxing at crowded beaches. Advice on methods to combat ozone depletion are also conspicuously absent. But one immediately notes the names on the letterhead and the endorsements of the PFSPA - leaders of the Sierra Club, the Friends of the Earth, the National Resources Defense Council, and other prominent environmental protection groups. These people have proven track records as caring environmentalists. They care about us and the Earth. Surely they wouldn't risk their reputations by supporting PFSPA if there was anything dodgy about it, would they?

Well, they might. Like all of us, the Sierra Club needs money to survive. Public Relations firms have been playing "Find the common ground" with activist groups for decades. Usually, this game benefits both parties. Imagine that you are an executive officer for a well-known and trusted environmentalist group, and I represent a pharmaceutical company that manufactures sunscreen. Although at many times we are opposed to each other over issues like rainforest harvesting and ozone-destroying manufacturing processes, we can at least agree that people should protect themselves when they go out in the sun. By forming a hypothetical coalition to advocate intelligent use of sunscreen, we can boost sales of my product, in return for which my company may assist your group in raising funds or otherwise. As long as the link between us is hidden from public view - our coalition must be completely independent of my company - we both win. "O'Dwyer's PR Services Report" has advocated such alliances as one of the best ways to improve company images amongst environmentally aware consumers and, at the same time, neutralize hostile activist groups.

The facts in the PFSPA's case are that the coalition and all of its literature and VNRs were created by Hill & Knowlton, one of America's largest PR firms, as part of their campaign for Schering-Plough. Schering-Plough is a transnational pharmaceutical company whose best-known product is Coppertone sun lotion. Which, hopefully, reminds us not to trust anything we read.

For the record, representatives of the environmentalist groups named above have denied being aware of the Schering-Plough connection and hidden agenda.

Sources and further information:

  • "Toxic Sludge is Good for You!" - Stauber and Rampton, 1995
  • http://www.prwatch.org
  • http://www.emagazine.com/november-december_1996/1196feat2.html
  • http://www.hillandknowlton.com/index.php

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