International trade associations to discuss global PR ethics code at February summit

The summit, hosted by the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management, aims to create a global code for the PR industry.

José Manuel Velasco (image is screenshot taken from Global Alliance video)
José Manuel Velasco (image is screenshot taken from Global Alliance video)

MADRID: In direct response to Edelman CEO Richard Edelman’s call for a new set of PR ethics standards post-Bell Pottinger, the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communication Management is hosting a summit for PR ethics in Madrid on February 1.

The Global Alliance, which represents international and national associations, previously issued a statement supporting Edelman’s ethics principles, called the PR Compact, in October.

"We understood we have a network that is suitable for organizing that PR Compact," said Global Alliance chair José Manuel Velasco. "The goal of the summit is to make a global code about the importance of the PR industry to have very ethical behavior. It’s a great opportunity to show industry leaders’ strong commitment to ethical behavior, as well as the development of the ethical code."

Michael Bush, Edelman’s SVP of global marketing and communications, confirmed Richard Edelman is scheduled to attend the summit in Madrid, but said the agency wouldn’t provide further comment.

Along with Edelman, Velasco said the summit will be attended by members of the Global Alliance, as well as the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), and the International Communications Consultancy Organization (ICCO).

Velasco said no other major agency heads besides Edelman have been confirmed to attend. All trade groups and PR agencies are welcome to attend the summit, which will be hosted at Dircom, a PR trade association based in Spain, he added.

"IABC is eager to work with other professional associations to create a global movement for ethical communication," said Sharon Hunter, chair of the IABC international executive board. "This is a critical issue that affects our communities, our organizations, and our governments. We hope that the summit is the first in a series of global conversations about how to hold our industry to a high standard. Collaborative leadership is key."

In early October, ICCO addressed the problem of unethical behavior by issuing the Helsinki Declaration at its global summit after the Bell Pottinger scandal. The declarations have been adopted by 18 associations, according to ICCO CEO Francis Ingham.

"We welcome the strong support that the Global Alliance has shown for our initiative," Ingham said. "And indeed we also are highly supportive of their complementary work to raise ethical standards. Our hope is that the Madrid meeting will see even more Global Alliance and ICCO members place the Helsinki Declaration at heart of their respective ethical codes."

Ingham is also the director general of the PRCA, which expelled Bell Pottinger, forcing it to be placed in administration.

Also, the Global Alliance has started tweaking its code of ethics to accommodate technological advances, such as the rise of social bots, a practice that played a key role in Bell Pottinger’s campaign, Velasco said.

He added that for the February summit, the Global Alliance wants to "harmonize the ethical codes so we have a global body of rules, sending a clear message to the industry about the importance of ethics."

This event is separate from the World Public Relations Forum, which will be held next April in Oslo, Norway. Velasco said that event would be "an ideal forum to launch a new global code of ethics."

None of Velasco’s proposals address the Global Alliance’s ability to enforce its code of conduct and punish agencies that violate it.

"I represent national and international associations," Velasco said. "It’s not my mission to speak about agencies."

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