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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