Take the money or keep your principles: The moral dilemma for PRs

We have recently ceased working on a project. I'd like to say it was a mutual agreement brought about by creative differences, but that would be like saying we won't work for a tobacco company because we think cigarettes might be a bit unhealthy.

Communicators have a role to play in what is pushed to a vulnerable audience, argues Holly Ward
Communicators have a role to play in what is pushed to a vulnerable audience, argues Holly Ward
In this particular instance we fundamentally disagreed on the ethics of the concept.  

Without going into detail, I’ll just say that we didn’t feel enough research had been done into what could have become a very controversial area. I have no doubt it will do very well, but sometimes, even as a new agency starting out, you have to listen to your instincts.  

We are building our business on truth and honesty and that means we must be candid with our clients.

In fact probably more so as a new agency starting out you need to put your flag in the sand and demarcate what you will and won’t work on.  

The world is not a perfect place and there are many, many products that are ethically questionable, but some just push our personal boundaries further than others. 

Why did we start working with them in the first place?  

It’s a reasonable question. The answer is that we liked them a lot and we counselled on additional measures that should be put in place to help overcome the ethical issues.   

Anyone who heard Victoria Grand, YouTube’s head of policy, talk at Cannes recently about use of the social platform to spread terrorist messages, couldn’t help but feel we could do more to manage and protect young people. 

What is interesting here is not that we have stopped working for a client, or that we didn’t really feel comfortable with the idea, but that in some small way we, as communicators, have a role to play in what is proactively pushed to a vulnerable audience.  
Does that make us nannyish and dull?  I don’t think so.  

I think it says very clearly that we all need to take some responsibility, do what we do best and manage the communications around contentious issues. And if those ideas are rebuffed then we have to make a decision on what we believe to be right, and if it means sacrificing a few quid in the process then that’s just fine.

At the end of the day we all want to make a profit, but I don’t believe that should come at the expense of principles.  

Of course we don’t live in a perfect world, but we believe in the positive power of brands and the role they can and should play in our shared society.

Holly Ward is co-founder of The Forge

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