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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Banks untrusted or at least trusted less: Should they get used to it?

February 22, 2010 at 10:27 pm (Public Relations) (, , , , , )

It seems like the recession pulled down bank reputation a big deal. Of course this is no surprise. Lots of people are in financial difficulty not to mention  the banks themselves.

But as far as reputation what can PR people do in this sector?

Well, in isolation efforts probably won’t succeed. PR need to be a part of a larger trust regaining plan. Banks changing practices, improving services and hoping that time will dim memories of the credit crunch in people fast.

Meanwhile PR is expected to focus on CSR to show banks do care about community, to improve relations.  This is the perfect time to do some corporate responsibility programs provided these gain visibility in the media and in reports.

I looked into Google to see what comes up. It seems only Deutsche Bank  has a very clearly visible (and perhaps a well search engine optimized) CSR program.

They focus on Education, Art and Social Investment.  Therefore it seems like a well rounded program. It offers something for everyone or at least many people.
These programs take place in the U.K..

I  think CSR won’t fix reputation by itself. It would be naive to assume that.  what the media are interested in is if banks rise or fall. Deutsche Bank according to this recent article seems to rise. This of course can also benefit public trust. It is more risky though. Bonuses  might outrage some people. Especially those who are in debt and feel mistreated by banks.

From a PR perspective this does seem to be the best plan. Emphasize good news, have CSR available and hope to be lucky not get any bad news connected to your name.

Will this work to gain public trust? Will different banks come up with different plans?
We will see…

For more info go to:

Deutsche Bank CSR

High street banks face trust crisis, Reputation Survey shows

Deutsche Bank staff to win 30% pay rises

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CSR or window dressing?

February 15, 2010 at 11:45 pm (Public Relations) (, , )

The debate was very interesting. There are so many good examples of CSR (corporate social responsibility) out there.  If it’s done right, it is undoubtedly useful.
So I had a difficult time looking for proof that CSR is wrong or can go wrong.
During my debate I was aiming at drawing attention to the mismatches between CSR programs and the companies that do them. This is just a matter of looking at the CSR program from the outside. It is probably common sense that a polluting industry should be low key about environmental issues unless they are willing to make a real change which would cost them a lot and require fundamental steps. This came to me from the Honda example which is also mentioned in the article linked here.
Of course the HSBC carbon emissions example shows that aligning with a cause that has little do to with them, seems like a safe option but it can backfire just as easily. Especially in this economic climate with the recession going on and many people are suffering from the credit crunch. I do think that climate change needs to be addressed, but there  needs to be balance between imminent problems and more long term ones.
Essentially environmental initiatives can only be funded in a (at least) stable economic status. So in a sense by solving the more urgent problem it can give a better chance at solving the long term one.

It is an interesting article about when CSR goes badly wrong:

Companies Who Care? Jess Worth New Internationalist

The other side, who argued that CSR is useful and honest brought up examples of companies essentially lifting up entire communities through their program. They bring infrastructure, education and jobs to people. It is a very good start but then the people need to take over, build on it.

CSR is only as good, as much honesty, motivation and resources are put into them. By resources I don’t necessarily mean money, but – where appropriate- by encouraging employees to volunteer some of their time to good causes.  It not just brings the cause close to them on a personal level, but it is great team building (and great internal PR) opportunity. During one of my internships my colleagues took me along to some of these volunteering programs. The opportunities are endless, from helping rebuild a bird wildlife education center in the middle of the countryside, or doing huge concerts to visiting the elderly homes or ill children for the day.

CSR has so many potentials to make real difference in a small way definitely and not turn into just window dressing.

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