Paul Werth Associates
Paul Werth Associates is a public relations firm based in Columbus, Ohio.
In 2008, Werth was criticized for its tactics as the PR firm responsible an "International AntiCounterfeiting Campaign" (IACC). Funded by the Coach bag company, the campaign sought to discourage people from buying knockoff Coach handbags. As part of the campaign, Coach persuaded Hunter College in New York to offer a PR class which invented a fictional student named "Heidi Cee." Using blogs, MySpace and YouTube videos, Heidi Cee claimed that she had purchased a fake Coach handbag. The campaign also claimed that counterfeit products are linked to criminal activity, child labor and terrorism. At one point, said one of the students who took the course, "I think maybe the entire PR team from Coach was in the class, maybe six or seven women."
A subsequent investigation of the incident by the Academic Freedom Committee of the Hunter College Senate concluded that the PR practices taught in the class were "deeply troubling," noting that the professor chosen to teach the course was pressured into doing so, despite his ethical objections and protestations that he was not qualified to teach it. It also found that the course content "imposed a narrow and biased perspective in the classroom," in which students "were not provided with materials or the opportunity to pursue multiple points of view of the counterfeit product market."
Tim Portlock, the professor recruited to teach the course, said that Werth and other Coach representatives were in touch with him up to three times a week, dictating how the course should be taught. During one phone call in which Werth employee Melina Metzger participated, Portlock asked if he could bring in pro-counterfeiting perspectives. An attorney for Coach responded, "If you think we're going to give $10,000 to a course that's going to be critical of us, you're wrong."
- "International AntiCounterfeiting Campaign (IACC)," Case Studies, PaulWerth.com (accessed May 8, 2008).
- Andrew Adam Newman, "The True Story of a Bogus Blog," AdWeek, May 5, 2008.
- Andrew Adam Newman, "Report: Hunter College Probe Slams Coach-Sponsored PR Class," AdWeek, May 9, 2008.
Paul Werth Associates
10 North High Street, Suite 300
Columbus, OH 43215