We have a duty to lead by example. Ethics are upheld through actions, not just empty words.

Professionalism, ethics and transparency. Those values have never been more important for our industry. As it grows in size and importance, PR is rightly under the microscope, writes Francis Ingham.

We have a duty to lead by example. Ethics are upheld through actions, not just empty words.

We should welcome this scrutiny. Ours is a vibrant, growing, influential and ethical industry. The vast majority of PR practitioners are scrupulous and professional in their work.

We all recognise we have a personal role to play in the professionalisation of the PR industry, a process I am very confident is heading in the right direction. Looking back on previous decades when the PR world was more mysterious in its activities, we are now a truly modern discipline with firm roots in transparency and ethics. However, the occasional issue arises – and the role of professional bodies such as the PRCA is then key.

As you may be aware, we recently terminated the membership of Fuel PR International. This followed a meeting of our Professional Practices Committee over a complaint against the firm, and prompted in large part by PRWeek’s investigatory work.

The complaint focused on the so-called ‘Sweatygate’ affair, and sugg­ested that in using an employee as the subject of a ‘real life’ feature that endorsed a client’s product, Fuel PR International had breached the PRCA Professional Charter. The story was written up in good faith by the Press Association, which then sold it to several national newspapers.

It was the committee’s unanimous judgement that Fuel PR was in clear breach of section 2:2 of the PRCA Professional Charter, which states that all members shall "have a positive duty at all times to respect the truth and shall not disseminate false or misleading information knowingly or recklessly, and to use proper care to avoid doing so inadvertently".

Bearing in mind the reputational harm done by this breach of the code, the committee decided the sanctions should be severe – and so its membership was terminated (and ineligible for reapplication for five years) and the MD’s role as a PRCA Fellow was ended. The committee’s recommendations were endorsed by the PRCA Board of Management.

It gave me no pleasure to eject Fuel from the PRCA. Quite the reverse – the agency had been a valued member over the years, and its MD had done excellent work with the Women in PR group. Indeed, a few years ago she had been the guiding force in the decision of that organisation to leave the CIPR and become instead affiliated with the PRCA.

However, no person or organisation is above the Code: it is the bedrock of our industry’s professionalism. As with everything the PRCA gets involved in, we need to show our mettle through action, not words. We did it when we took the NLA to court (and won); we did it when we introduced the only apprenticeship programme for the PR industry; and we do it now.

Talk is cheap – this great industry should be led by example.

Francis Ingham is the PRCA director-general and ICCO executive director

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