PR Firm Drops Church Of Scientology As Client
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) _ Hill & Knowlton, the public relations giant, has quit working for the Church of Scientology because it posed a conflict with another of its clients, a top agency official said Friday.
The PR firm was also under pressure from its parent, WPP Group PLC, to drop the Scientologists, but the agency executive said that was not the determining factor in Hill & Knowlton’s decision.
WPP also owns the ad agency J. Walter Thompson, whose clients include Eli Lilly & Co., an Indianapolis-based drugmaker that has been feuding with the Scientologists over Prozac, a Lilly anti-depressant drug.
″We saw a conflict of interest with another of our clients,″ said Frank Mankiewicz, vice chairman of Hill & Knowlton.
He declined to identify the client, comment on the nature of the conflict or discuss the reasons for the timing of the decision. But he said Lilly is not one of the PR firm’s clients.
Mankiewicz said the firm began severing its ties to the Scientologists in early May and has now completed all its work for them.
He said the decision to drop the Scientologists came a few days after its parent, London-based WPP, began to pressure the firm to drop the account.
Lilly has been a Thompson client for some time. Hill & Knowlton picked up the Scientologists as clients in 1988.
The Scientologists oppose psychiatric drugs and are calling for a ban on Prozac, which they say can cause suicidal and violent behavior.
The Lilly-Scientology battle began late last year. In August, WPP Chairman Martin Sorrell flew to Indianapolis to meet with Lilly executives.
The meeting was arranged ″to discuss the whole scenario of H&K representing the church,″ said Edward A. West, Lilly manager of corporate communications.
″We weren’t comfortable with their representing Scientology ... but we did not ask them or advise them to drop the account. It was their decision,″ West said.
Mankiewicz said Hill & Knowlton’s work for the Scientologists included helping them publicize their work to combat drug and alcohol use by teens and on behalf of taxpayer’s rights.
He said the firm had nothing to do with the anti-Prozac campaign.
Heber Jentzsch, president of the Church of Scientology, charged late Friday that WPP and Lilly worked together to ″silence the church’s public information campaign″ against Prozac.
″I’m glad to see that Ed West has admitted to the whole scenario was worked out with Eli Lilly and Martin Sorrell of WPP,″ Jentzsch said in a telephone interview.
He alleged Lilly officials called Sorrell to Indianapolis to ″read him the riot act″ concerning the Scientologists.