One year ago, the PRCA expelled Bell Pottinger.
It was unquestionably our most high-profile disciplinary decision of the past decade -probably ever in our 49 year history.
And it was also, as Richard Edelman noted, ‘a proud moment for the industry’.
One year on, what can we learn?
I’d highlight seven positive developments.
- Ironically, it endorsed our industry’s central message. Bell Pottinger collapsed within a week because its reputation collapsed. For how many years have we said that an organisation’s most potent asset is its reputation? Well this was convincing proof of that assertion.
- But that power needs to be used for good. The focus of the PRCA Council is entirely to that end this year. And it is driven in part by our next point.
- Public expectations have changed. What was just about tolerable a decade ago, most definitely no longer is. Public expectations have changed -and for the better.
- The world is small. What happened in South Africa did not stay in South Africa. There is no ethical excuse firewall between the work done by UK companies in the UK and the work done by them for international clients.
- Social media has ratcheted up the pressure on those doing ill. The volume and ferocity of comment on ethical malpractice is now overwhelming. Every twitter user is an advocate or a detractor. And that isn’t going to go away.
- The PR community does embrace tough rules and tough action when those rules are broken. The response to our action of a year ago was overwhelmingly positive.
- It also embraces international collaboration -the Helsinki Declaration was the first internationally-agreed set of principles to govern our industry’s ethical behaviour. The Global Alliance Framework in which we were integrally involved complements that Declaration brilliantly. Together, we have established some global rules of practice.
But for all that has changed for the better, and for all that we have together done for the better, the industry expects us to go further. Here’s the uncomfortable truth. The majority of our international industry does not belong to its home association, and does not subscribe to enforceable Codes of Conduct. Often, those omissions are almost accidental. Very few practitioners actively decide to embrace low standards, or to avoid accountability. And yet all too often inertia is our enemy.
So here’s my call to the industry as we launch Ethics month. If you believe in the power of our industry, then you should believe in the #POWERofETHICS. And if you believe in the power of ethics, then you should make it the norm -and, as we have chosen to describe PRCA Ethics Month, you should Walk The Talk.