I’ve been enjoying my time as a panelist on Inside PR and lending some commentary on social media and PR in general. The last few shows dealt a bit with the issue of PR and ethics. I can’t remember the genesis of the dialogue but it had something to do with tobacco companies receiving qualified PR representation. That discussion generated some very interesting call-in responses from Joe Thornley and Shel Holtz. I’m not sure where we netted out (there is no right or wrong on the show), but I made the comment that ethics and ethical behaviour is very much predicated on one’s personal beliefs and value system. While PR professionals have a “code of ethics” most adhere to, the question of ethics and ethical standards also pertain to the kinds of clients and mandates a firm represents. After all, aren’t we judged by the company we keep?
I know first-hand that running a PR firm is a huge responsibility and I need to set the example by the clients we take on and represent. I am ultimately responsible and accountable for every brand we represent in the public domain and what we say about them. I believe a company’s ethics starts at the top and filters through the whole organization. We also, as a collective team, must embrace and fully support our clients’ actions, products and services, while at the same time serve as their public conscience. We need to be their brand ambassadors 24/7. That’s the kind of unwavering commitment to PR and to our clients that we need to demonstrate each and every day. Because if you don’t believe in your clients’ brand or products, you cannot serve them well, or at all.
There isn’t one client on our roster that I am not proud of. I have no issue representing a bottled water company, a cola company, a video game company, an alcohol or automobile company. It’s only been on a few rare occasions where we declined to pitch business because there was a perceived ethical issue in what the company produced or stood for. These decisions are not easy to make and are not based on some textbook guidelines. In fact, so much of our personal beliefs and core values come into play whenever we deal with a client. If you feel that representing a hunting association is just ethically wrong, you have every right not to compromise your own beliefs and not to represent that client.
At the end of the day, your ethics can never be waived, compromised or challenged. You live your life by your own personal code of what is right or wrong. While fitting that into a workplace can sometimes be challenging, you have to be true to yourself at all times and be able to sleep at night with a clear conscience.
I know I do, each and every night.