Throughout these 30 days of September – international ethics month - we have been celebrating the ‘power of ethical PR’, a lofty and inspiring slogan to remind us that what we do, matters, and doing it correctly matters a lot.
And rightly so. In whatever setting we work, large agency or small, in-house team or as independent consultants, we serve, as my PRCA Ethics Council co-chair Mary Beth West so nicely wrote on this blog, as ‘bridges of trust’ between organisations and people in a time of colossal change. We do good work. Helping our fellow humans cross back and forth on these structures of credibility and integrity that we all work so hard to build and maintain is needed now more than ever. It’s important to celebrate this, and I am grateful for the many colleagues around the world who are sharing their wisdom and experience this month under the #PRCAethics banner, through webinars, podcasts and social media exchanges.
But the power of ethical PR raises, perhaps by implication, some uncomfortable questions, too. Would anyone know if the good work of communicators around the world were to gradually become somewhat less ethical, in small increments? At what point would those outside our circles begin to notice a diminishing commitment to truth, transparency and engagement? And what would the damage be?
And what about the power of unethical PR? 2020 has provided a bonanza of examples – in government, public health and business - of just how potent PR can be when it is unrestrained by commonly accepted ethical frameworks. Misinformation, manipulation, conspiracy, misuse of data – it’s hard not to see these illicit arts gaining an upper hand. Is this how we want our work to be defined or understood by our families and communities?
So this Ethics Month is timely, and the conversations it sparks will last long into 2021, I hope. A few areas of particular interest to me personally:
- Expanded collaboration between PR practitioners and academics to better understand ethical reasoning and frameworks for addressing real-life dilemmas
- Commitment to educating our people throughout their careers on ethical decision-making and counsel
- Continued and enforced adherence to the PRCA codes, and adaptation of similar codes and enforcement mechanism in markets where none exists
- Greater use of hard data to expand the case for strong ethical reasoning frameworks
- Eyes wide open for the emerging ethical challenges related to technology, data and behavioural psychology
- More celebration of moral courage, instances when hard or unpopular advice is given, even if not followed. And no, not another awards program.
I’ll look forward to seeing you, on-screen at least, throughout the month and well beyond.
David Gallagher, FPRCA serves as co-chair of the PRCA Ethics Council, and is a former chairman of the PRCA. He is also president, international growth and development for the Omnicom PR Group, and can be followed on Twitter (@TBoneGallagher) and contacted at email@example.com