Your mind can see it already: senior consultants from major PR agencies and corporate communications executives within major corporations doing the perp walk with their hands cuffed behind their backs.
It has not happened yet, but I predict it is coming. It will be seen by the world through the power of the global news media.
Isn't this ironic? These so-called professionals are supposed to counsel their bosses and clients away from such crises, but they themselves chose lies over truth and money over integrity. They are illegally padding corporate, nonprofit, and government clients' accounts with false time charges; unethically paying TV news commentators for stories in the news; and soon lying all the way to jail.
As a result, the PR industry has a black eye and mud thrown all over it. Some executives in the PR industry believe they are above the law, but they are truly mistaken. These corrupt executives hopefully will be held accountable by staff, the media, law enforcement, stockholders, and other key audiences. If we want to help improve the PR industry's reputation, we must start by rooting out corruption; lies; and unethical, immoral, and illegal activity. If we don't do it ourselves, others will do it for us.
Our various PR and corporate communications associations also are not speaking out against these illegal, unethical, and immoral activities with passion and accountability. Ironically, some PR executives are in leadership roles within these associations. They've chosen to put their heads in the sand. It is time for these groups to not protect their own, but actually do the right thing and hold them accountable. These associations must also be held more accountable for their actions.
Doing the right thing means overcoming fear. We must stand up for the life-saving principles and bricks of an excellent reputation, which include truth, accountability, transparency, humility, and consistency. We must teach all those around us, both at work and at home, that our word stands for something.
Our industry has had a reputation crisis for many years now. Many have whispered this for years behind closed doors, but we must now do something about it. Our industry is made up of thousands of individuals, and individual action matters. It can be done one PR consultant at a time. Let's stand on truth and not on lies.
Below is a list of just a few rules that can help improve our entire industry's reputation:
1. When your boss asks you to do something unethical, immoral, or illegal, you must say no and also hold him accountable. Be brave and overcome your fear with a greater desire to be honest and filled with integrity and truth.
To do so, you must be willing to put your career on the line. Having a mortgage, a family to provide for, and other responsibilities is never an excuse to lie, steal, or break the law. By fighting through the fear, you will be rewarded for your efforts by building your character and integrity. There are many other organizations that will honor your actions. Doing so consistently will build an excellent reputation for life.
2. If clients ask you to do something unethical, immoral, or illegal, also say no, and be willing to hold them accountable. At our agency, we are senior counselors in reputation management and crisis PR. We have a strong reputation for taking the time to truly counsel our clients away from bad decisions, but if after 90 days our clients, especially those in crisis, still don't begin on the path to truth, our firm is willing to walk away and end our agreement with a client who refuses to take our advice.
Many times, the first step for this type of client is admitting that they've done something wrong. Firms should not take clients just to make money. They must help build, maintain, and repair clients' reputations.
3. To tell the truth in a crisis, it is often necessary to think of something greater than ourselves. Most people who know me understand that my faith in Jesus Christ is very important to me. As a result, my faith helps keep me on the road to truth and away from sin and crises.
I'm not perfect. I also make mistakes. It is thinking of something greater than myself that gets me back on track to admit when I err. Many clients I have counseled over the years have learned to do something similar. For some clients, our counsel focuses on their kids to help return them to understanding the importance of honesty, integrity, and truth in decision making.
Our industry is crying out for help and trying to avoid the PR perp walk. Will you help?
- Mike Paul is president and senior counselor of MGP & Associates PR.