A number of Singapore PR firms have said they will not take part in controversial dating website Ashley Madison's search for comms support in the country, Mumbrella is reporting.
The agencies said that ethical grounds would prevent them from taking on the assignment. Ashley Madison, which has 22m users globally, goes by the slogan 'Life is short. Have an affair'.
The site is looking for a PR agency in Singapore ahead of its launch there later this month, Mumbrella revealed earlier this week.
PR agencies told Mumbrella that the assignment could damage their relationships with existing clients.
Andy Oliver, Asia Pacific SVP of Lewis PR, said: "It’s a decision each business owner will need to make for themselves."
"In this situation, we have a service which promotes infidelity, which raises moral questions and in many peoples’ eyes, will be frowned upon," added Oliver. "As an agency boss, you need to make sure the clients you have will maintain the reputation and credibility of your firm, enhance your ability to win more clients and grow your business."
"It’s not our job to moralise," continued Oliver. "But it’s our job to do what’s in the best interests of the business. You don’t want to have clients which could possibly damage your business or reputation, or raise eyebrows when talking to existing clients or prospects."
"Ultimately it’s a business decision. For example, this could be an interesting client for an agency that specialises in crisis communications. For us, let’s just say that it’s not the type of organisation that falls into our area of expertise."
John Kerr, regional boss of Zeno, noted that his firm has "strong guidelines in terms of ethics and industries that we wouldn’t work with – e.g. tobacco."
"Also, in seeking to always create trusted relationships between consumers and brands, I believe it would be tough to do this for Ashley Madison consistently over time," explained Kerr. "It’s a high profile brand and will be an interesting brief, so good luck to them and whoever they end up partnering with."
Weber Shandwick also said it would not work with the company, while another agency told Mumbrella it would be foolish to work for a client that has been publicly lambasted by a senior government official.
Ashley Madison declined to tell Mumbrella whether it had received any positive responses from the agencies it had approached.
Meanwhile, industry body the Institute of Public Relations of Singapore has said that agencies should make up their own minds according to their own ethical principals.
IPRS president Stephen Forshaw, who is the corporate communications chief for state investment fund Temasek, told Mumbrella in a statement:
"IPRS doesn’t have a view on agencies working for clients like Ashley Madison specifically: on questions of the ethics of businesses they may be asked to represent, agencies should make their own assessments according to their own principles."
"Some agencies choose not to work for tobacco companies, for companies involved in the manufacturing and distribution of munitions, or companies involved in carbon-creating businesses. That is their right, and the same ethical questions would apply to working for this client."
"If a business operates legally, then agencies should be free to make their own determination on whether they work for them or not."
"IPRS would take a dim view of agencies acting contrary to the expected ethics of the practice of public relations. Practices such as astroturfing and failing to disclose they represent a client when speaking on issues of importance to that client have been known to occur in the industry – fortunately, few in Singapore in my experience. IPRS would expect its members and other agencies to conduct themselves to high standards when representing their clients."
Last month, agencies in Hong Kong expressed mixed views on whether they would work for Ashley Madison, which has just set up its website in the territory.