As someone who has worked with public relations firms for nearly 20 years (as both a client and a PR pro), I have very strong feelings about ethics in the PR field. Unfortunately, very few firms make honest and ethical business practices a central part of their core philosophy. More often than not, they are operating on the “I don’t care what you have to do, bring us more business” principle. They excuse themselves by halfheartedly believing they are merely carrying out their clients’ wishes or, in today’s world, fighting for their own survival.
PR Week Magazine has an article this week that should be required-reading for any and all PR practitioners. In it, Gil Bashe of Makovsky + Company states, “Put public relations and ethics in the same conversational sentence and you’re bound to spark some snide descriptors.
We sometimes endure the expected sarcastic descriptions as “flacks” or “spin doctors.” Are those snide comments on our profession deserved or earned? Perhaps, as front-line industry and government spokespeople, our task as educators and explainers is misinterpreted…even distrusted. Maybe, we are not doing enough within the profession and our agencies to help colleagues sharpen their ethical compasses?”
Bashe continues by stating, “Public relations professionals should inspire people to do better for themselves and their audiences. In fact, ethical conduct is so essential to the quality and impact of our work that the Public Relations Society of America issued recently an “Act Ethically and Carry On,” poster, a creative take off on the popular early World War II British morale-building call-to-action.
For PR agency colleagues who experienced the recent years of fee-famine, opportunity can stimulate unquenchable thirst for “do whatever it takes” to win and deliver. However, there is a limit – an ethical limit. Navigating the decision-making process requires business and personal courage. We are representatives of companies and firms seeking to influence public opinion and behavior.”
I could tell horror stories of some of the PR industry’s “tricks of the trade”. Policies and procedures widely used that are outright fraudulent and misleading – for both clients and the general public. Anyone who has worked with a variety of firms could easily tell similar stories. One can hope that as large, reputable firms get recognition for being above-board and ethical, the smaller firms will follow suit. Or, possibly, they will simply succumb to the current economy that they claim forces them to misbehave. Either way, the world is a better place.
Read the entire PR Week story here.