The only way is ethics


Guy Smith, Corporate Team

When it comes to the pillars of modern-day professionalism, the only way is ethics!

The only way is ethics

Put public relations and ethics in the same sentence and you’re bound to provoke anything from a raised eyebrow to a flurry of disparaging remarks.

Unfortunately, pejorative perceptions still hang around like an unwanted odour. Well, it’s time that we cracked a window and let those views waft away: PR is full of hugely talented operators who approach their job with the utmost professionalism. Of course, there are a few that don’t quite meet the mark - every profession does have ‘em.

It is, however, the word ‘professional’ that I really want to explore a little. What makes one?

According to the code of conduct of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), it’s someone who maintains “the highest standards of professional endeavour, integrity, confidentiality, financial propriety and personal conduct”.

Put that into practice, particularly in media relations, and principles such as honesty, client confidentiality, and duty of care to your profession, can come into conflict. Facts are sacred: they need to be verified for accuracy and misleading statements should always be challenged. 

For example, if a client gives a PR practitioner information to publish without any proper discussion, then it is the role of the latter to question and if necessary argue against it, if it’s inappropriate and not in the interests of the organisation and stakeholders. Not to do so, you could argue, would be unprofessional.

Another thing - the golden rule in PR is never lie. Being truthful is paramount and many more companies now acknowledge that transparency is the operative word. In the age of social and digital media, where your internal audience (your employees or maybe more significantly former staff) have the tools to publish, then there is nowhere to hide.

Similarly, in internal communications, it’s a balance between the needs of the business and having an honest two-way conversation with colleagues. Simply to be the mouthpiece of management and the board undermines credibility; honesty and transparency are critical. So, if there are legal constraints or continuing negotiations, then it needs to be explained. And bad news needs to be communicated in a timely, objective and consistent manner in order to build trust.

Corporate ethics (think recent scandals in retail and the car industry) is back on the front page. Indeed, less than half (48%) of the British public believe that UK companies behave ethically, according to a survey by the Institute of Business Ethics last year.

The issue that stuck most in the craw was corporate tax avoidance - a topic of considerable media debate in 2016. More than four out of ten people were concerned about it, whilst executive pay and exploitative labour were also high on the list. Interestingly, some 16% thought the protection of customer data and privacy was a key problem to address.

Increasingly, corporate ethics have become one of the pillars of modern-day professionalism. This welcome revolution is in no small part thanks to social media. Whatever the driver, it is positive to note businesses across all sectors putting ethics at the top of the agenda. For example, the CIPR has a code of conduct with well over 10,000 members signed up to follow the principles of professionalism. As the title states: The only way is ethics!