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PRCA Ethics Month: The Power of Ethical PR

The PRCA Ethics Council has launched the annual Ethics Month in September. We had a chat with Council members and PR practitioners from across the world to get their insight on the power of ethical PR.

How Can PR Leaders Influence C-Suite Ethical Decisions?

Anushka Mathew MPRCA:

“Reputation drives a brand’s equity value, and a trusted PR adviser can help Boards understand investor, market and media sentiment regarding any decisions and implications for the business.”

Sudha Singh MPRCA:

“As members of the PR community we are all signatories to Industry Code of Conduct. 'Members are expected to adhere, understand, observe and uphold the Code’ PR practitioners regularly advise C-Suite and leadership teams on issues that can impact business reputation and it’s financial stability. As experts we have a unique overview of business as well as insights on leanings and conversations of external stakeholders. We also understand how consumer/shareholder activism, employee discontent in a remote part of the world can become the headline due to the very nature of 24x7 news and social media that gives it wings. Having the ear of the C-Suite means you can nudge them in the right direction with advice rooted in experience and facts.”

Stephane Billiet:

“PR Leaders’ responsibility is to act as the Corporate Conscience. In charge of companies and brands’ reputation, it is their duty to influence C-Suite ethical decisions, speak out for business ethics and enforce ethical standards of behavior within a company. PR Pros’ role goes beyond influencing how companies communicate, it’s about influencing how companies behave.”

Claire Walker FPRCA:

"We’re all on a journey - a boat with cargo, sailors and passengers and a map. A bad ethical decision which compromises your reputation is like being torpoed in the side. A good ethical decision is like a warm wind blowing a ship faster in the right direction."

Simon Goldsworthy FPRCA:

“It's dangerous for PR people to overclaim - not only is it unrealistic but it's often counterproductive. However in a siloised world in which many business leaders have limited experience outside their sectors and specialisms, PR's experience in communicating with wider audiences is vital.  Empathy, while not ethical in itself, is an essential cornerstone for all ethical decisions.”

What Role Should Accountability Hold, in Ethical PR?

Sudha Singh MPRCA:

"Accountability is critical for any business and especially so in PR. PRs advise clients on how to behave, often in adverse circumstances. In my view accountability is linked to larger organisational purpose and values. It inspires individuals to work to the highest standards and adhere to ethical ways of doing business. We all know that accountability also drives organisational productivity and employee engagement - so it needs to be at the core of work we do and advise we give our clients." 

Claire Walker FPRCA:

"Ethics is a structure of rules for appropriate behavior, in context. Do you know the rules for PR? How well do you know the PRCA code? If there are no rules and no one is accountable it’s like the wild west. Don’t be a cowboy."

Gustavo Averbuj CMPRCA:

“Many times we are asked about spinning. Others accused of creating fake news. As the old saying goes " If your actions do not prove the truth of your words, then your words are worth nothing". I live by (and can still sign), all the campaigns we have been involved in. In PR , accountability is crucial. Not just in this pandemics times. Always.”

How Do PR Ethics Drive Stronger Business Strategies?

Anushka Mathew MPRCA:

"PR ethics have a major role in helping businesses build and articulate their ESG strategies, which drive strong, sustainable growth."

Sudha Singh MPRCA:

"The PR Industry advises corporates (big & small), governments, NGOs, Individuals on how they should engage with their internal and external stakeholders. As an industry we sign up to an enforceable Code of Conduct to ensure that members are accountable for their behaviour, the advise they give and the clients they work with. At the client end as trusted advisers while dealing with issues that can cause reputational/financial damage it is important to view problems through an ethics lens, rooted in insights and thinking long term. Doing the right thing helps to build organisational reputation, attract employees, and win more business."

Derya Filiz MPRCA:

"Only through ethical practice can we truly build trust and establish faithful relationships with our audiences. And only then can we build brand equity which is so crucial to delivering against our business objectives, particularly in care, health and wellbeing sectors."

Rob Flaherty: 

“There’s a lot of talk about sustainability these days, but not enough about sustainable brands. A sustainable brand is one that is managed by leaders that make decisions that treat all stakeholders with respect and with full awareness of the long-term impact of those decisions. PR counselors can ensure a brand is sustainable by helping leaders to make ethical decisions focused on long-term development more than short-term gain.”

David Gallagher MPRCA:

“Strong ethics in communications builds business with greater trust, understanding and reliability, especially in these volatile times. Weak ethics does the opposite.”

Claire Walker FPRCA:

"Now, more so than ever, the PR ethical spotlight on YOU and your organization and that will impact on your reputation. How strong and deep are your ethical foundations. Reputations crumble without foundations."

Why Are Ethics Critical for PR in Times of Crisis?

Sudha Singh MPRCA:

We are all aware that the crises over the past couple of months has disproportionately impacted some people more than others. The Pandemic and Black Lives Matter(BLM) have also shone light on disinformation and racial inequality. Combatting misinformation was critical to ensuring that everyone had access to access to accurate health advice from the UK Government, NHS etc in a timely manner.

 “On the issue of systemic racial inequality organisations were called out for being opportunistic and for resorting to tokenism by taking a band-aid approach when what was required was a considered response. People’s default reaction during a crisis is speedy knee jerk response. What is required however is listening, insights and ethical response based on fairness and values.” 

Derya Filiz MPRCA:

"True colours are most visible during a crisis. How we react under extreme pressure speaks volumes. Sincerity, integrity and good will goes a long way, rebuilding trust if people have doubts or concerns. That’s why are Ethics critical for PR in times of crisis."

Lee Nugent CMPRCA:

“Ethical communications is fundamental to build trust. This is never more important than when a crisis hits. When there are threats to public safety and/or the risk of serious reputation damage and financial loss, communicators must be responsible and accountable. Honesty and openness, even where ambiguity and uncertainty exist, is crucial and, as we’ve seen in recent times, we have a duty of care to advise and educate the public by presenting them with the truth. Words, and how we say them, matter.” 

Claire Walker FPRCA:

"In the midst of a crisis it might be tempting to compromise your ethical values, for a fleeting second. Remember from COVID, there were organisations who were admired or derided. A sound ethical decision based on long term reputational impact most likely made the difference."

Philippa Foster Back CBE:

"PR is a central function as a go-between an organisation and its audience. They need to be trust-builders with that audience, so basing their communications on the organisation’s ethical values becomes a key element to delivering clear and honest messages. This is ever more important in times of crisis."

How Can PR Teams Keep Ethics Ever-Engaged? 

Claire Walker FPRCA:

"Like keeping fit and being healthy, it’s almost a daily challenge to keep your organisational ethical compass pointed in the right direction with no wavering. Constant conversation and discussion keeps it fresh, relevant and keenly observed. Don’t be afraid to challenge bad ethical choices."

Mary Beth West MPRCA:

“It simply isn’t adequate to know PR Ethics in theory alone. Knowledge isn’t compliance. Applying ethics daily – whether during each minute of an urgent crisis or over months of methodical strategic planning – all require PR Teams to command Ethics knowledge as well as self-determination to make accountable decisions… and to insist that others do the same.” 


Read more about Ethics Month here.