PR and Ethics (continued)

March 1, 2010 at 8:05 pm (Public Relations, Uncategorized) (, , , , , )

As a PR practitioner would you promote guns, tobacco or alcohol? This was the question we asked in class when discussing ethics.
There are many answers and I recommend the article linked below. Major players had been answering the big ethics questions, based on experiences. Among them:

Jilly Forster CEO and founder, Forster
Robert Phillips, UK CEO, Edelman
Phil Reed, Board director, Brahm

There seems to be an overall agreement that, if you do not agree with what a client does or wants you to do then do not work with them.  Some organizations even have policies against working with tobacco companies, for example.

I think policies are a very good idea to have, because you can notify potential clients on where you stand on this issue. If you as an agency don’t want to work for arms, tobacco or alcohol industry then its better to be open about it up front.  Clients in this industry won’t waste your time and you won’t waste theirs. This is called mutual benefit.  It seems like drawing the ethical boundaries is a responsibility for not just the professional but the PR agency as well. So it is something well worth giving a thought, well before getting to work with clients.  Of course money does complicate things, because having drawn up this ethical standard means  the agency needs to stick to it,  even  if they are in dire need of clients. These three industries do have big cash invested in them.  So if in a bad economic situation it can easily come down to money versus ethics.
In cases where PR people do work with industries that are seen as unethical and harmful to society (not just our 3 examples but think less straightforward like fast food or soft drinks,) They can still do things, to be on the ethical side.

As we discussed in class, for example raising awareness about the issues that the product can cause is one way. This is not necessarily a question about counter-promoting the product you are promoting.   It is more about informing people who might use it, to use it wisely and rethink why they need it. The importance of informed decision cannot be overemphasized.

As for ethical PR, I think even if you are lucky, you can’t avoid ethically uncertain situations. Things are not always straightforward. Situations can exist where ethical codes won’t help, company policy won’t help. It will be down to personal responsibility.

Professional Ethics: Should You promote These Products?

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Ethics and PR

February 28, 2010 at 10:49 pm (Public Relations) (, , , , , )

Interesting debate tok place this week in class about ethics. One group argued that only PR practitioners working for the third sector (like NGO’s) can really to PR ethically.
It is understandable that those who work for society in a direct form (through charities, NGO’s not to mention if this is all volunteer work)  has a higher moral status. On the other hand it is not unethical to earn money while doing your job ethically. This is not industry specific.  Most discussions revolved around the money issue. Of course PR people at NGO’s also need to get paid because they have a life responsibilities and checks like everyone else. Therefore it is no surprise they work and get paid like everyone else. If you look at this from the NGO’s side if your cause is important to you, you want to get the best PR people on your side even if you have to pay for it. Right? Ethically it is nothing wrong with that. If you achieve your cause it was well worth it. Of course we are not talking about overpaying anyone (whatever that means, limits are blurred).

It is also not fair to say that if one belongs to those who do not work for NGO’s than their ethics are questionable. Usually people tend to know right from wrong (regardless of which one they choose) and make steps accordingly.  PR people have a very complex situation with their duty to society, duty to the boss and client. On the other hand when you go into a job like this you need to be able to represent your views as well. This takes the necessary courage to sit down and explain why this is unethical and suggest ethical alternatives whenever possible.  Being unethical, giving in to pressure can get back to you in form of bad professional reputation, guilt (or even legal consequences, but for the sake of argument lets assume laws had been respected). Therefore being ethical is also a somewhat self serving thing. Being “good” to others is being “good” to yourself.

I find it really useful to talk through difficult scenarios. It was great to hear what my classmates had to say. I think codes of conduct are important, but looking at situations can often offer more practical guidelines.  It is definitely the most one can do to prepare for future issues.

For more info on what PR ethics are look up:

CIPR Code of Conduct

PRSA Code of Ethics

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