Ethics and PR is a subject that crops up again and again, especially when crises emerge that hit the headlines in the national press and the industry engages in another period of hand-wringing while hoping the clouds will pass quickly and everyone can get back to business.
Ethical crises that have arisen around the industry include - but are not restricted to - firms taking on work for companies or countries that are considered beyond the pale; paying reporters to write positive stories about clients; claiming influence over certain politicians, journalists, or lawmakers as a selling point in a pitch process; and amending entries on Wikipedia under false pretenses.
While in private some might gloat a bit at another company's or firm's misfortune when these instances emerge, the more common reaction is a sigh of relief and a silent muttering of "there but for the grace of God go I."
One problem is that the PR industry tends to only make headlines when something has gone wrong. National media usually delight in these cases as it enables them to indulge in their favorite pastime of labeling PR as nothing but a profession populated by spin-masters and practitioners of dark arts.
So is it enough for the industry to shrug its shoulders and comfort itself in the knowledge that the majority of work carried out under the auspices of PR and communications is perfectly ethical, above board, and adds significant value to businesses and organizations?
Or should a more proactive approach be adopted that punishes wrongdoing and cements ethics within the very fabric of agencies and in-house communications departments?
In an increasingly global and connected economy where the definition of good corporate behavior differs considerably from territory to territory, it is an issue the industry must address together if it is to maintain the heightened credibility it has earned with the C-suite.
One major ethical misstep could ruin the years of hard work and good practice that have been invested in elevating PR to another level.