Ethics: the Cornerstone of PR
Over the last couple of weeks the topic of ethics in the PR industry has once again come to prominence; however I’ve only just managed to jot down my thoughts and have my two pennyworth.
The catalyst for the debate once again seems to be PR Week and it continues to be a good forum for industry colleagues to have their say. Stuart Bruce of Wolfstar has also penned a blog with a poll and the consensus, thankfully seems to be that it is wrong to behave unethically on behalf of a client.
It is important to make a clear distinction, namely the difference between unethical behaviours (astroturfing, lack of disclosure, lieing etc) and moral decisions, for instance working on accounts that people may find morally questionable, such as tobacco.
It comes down to rights and responsibilities: I believe we all have the right to opt out of an account for moral reasons, but we also have a responsibility to ourselves, our employer, clients and the PR industry to behave ethically.
Fortunately, all good agencies allow staff to opt out of accounts on moral grounds and I feel empowered that my employer’s position is clear as Robert Phillips stated ‘at Edelman, everyone has the right not to work on a piece of business if they find it ethically or morally challenging.’
I think the sensible approach seems to be that, yes – we should all work in an ethical manner, but from a moral standpoint it is less clear cut what industries are the ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ ones to work with. The issues are often far more complex than to simply be branded ‘good’ and ‘bad’.
Everyone has a different set of values and the question is: where do you draw the line? Is there a line? Arms, gambling, alcohol, pornography, fast food? Sweatshops, carbon footprints, industrial relations? In fact, under the surface I imagine someone, somewhere has a moral objection to every corporation. However, I firmly believe it is possible for organisations to behave in an ethical and responsible way, whilst carrying out work that some may find morally objectionable.
Indeed, it is these more challenging industries that provide us, as practitioners with the greatest opportunity to demonstrate how PR can be used for social good. We live in a stakeholder society and PR agencies can work in partnership with organisations to devise strategies that engage with these communities and create understanding.
Our end goals are trust and credibility and the most effective way to achieve these aims is through openness, honesty and transparency. Behaving unethically is short-sighted and ultimately, self-defeating. Whilst, I’m loath to make judgments on morality, it is not difficult to make ethical ones. Ethics has to be the cornerstone of the PR industry.
I’d be interested to hear what industries (rather than companies) you would find it hard to work with on ethical or moral ground.