'Ethics is here to stay' - Francis Ingham, chief executive of ICCO

The chief executive of the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) and director general of the PRCA, talks to PRWeek Middle East about ethics and regulation in an era of 'fake news'.

Last month was Ethics Month for our industry - the thirty days when associations and practitioners from around the world make a special effort to showcase and debate the subject of ethics. 

We do so at ICCO and the PRCA with the firm conviction that ours in an overwhelmingly ethical and professional business. The vast majority of practitioners pride themselves on upholding firm standards, and delivering services to clients and colleagues that are professional from beginning to end. 

Ethics month is always an interesting and busy one for us. but this year’s was particularly so. Here are the two elements that stood out for me

First, the truly international nature of the industry in which we work, and the commonality of the challenges and opportunities in front of us. 

Over a two-week period, I experienced the somewhat ‘challenging’ schedule of London to Moscow; Moscow to Dubai; Dubai to Istanbul; Istanbul to Cologne; and Cologne to London. In each case, my conversations with ICCO and PRCA members -including at the inaugural meeting of the PRCA MENA Regional Board under the chairmanship of Edelman’s Omar Qirem- involved a discussion on ethics.

Indeed, on the flight to Moscow, page two of the New York Times had an article on Bell Pottinger, and on our action enforcing the UK Code of Conduct. And on my return to the UK, the next two speaking events focussed on the same topic of ethical professionalism. 

Our industry’s focus on ethics is here to stay. The issues we face of trust; of self-regulation; of fake news; of speaking truth to power, are truly common; truly international; and definitely best addressed collectively.

The second element is linked. And it is that attitudes have shifted. 

We’ve recently seen how no agency will touch the brief being floated from Hong Kong. I see this as a significant moment. 

Less than a decade earlier, I remember clearly when the Libyan Government was in London trying to find a partner to puff the image of Libya at a time when the world was turning on Gadhafi, and was in fact about to attack him. Pretty much every big agency I spoke with took the meeting, even though ultimately nobody took the money.

The contrast of these two briefs and agency attitudes toward them is telling. It shows us that the norm has shifted. What once was acceptable is now beyond the pale. Practitioners are held to different and higher standards -by investors; by employees; by social media; and most importantly by themselves. There is no place to hide -and the practitioners I see don’t want to hide anyhow. 

So where now? I can’t see any of these hugely positive shifts being reversed. These changes in behaviour and in expectation have been concreted in to our industry. The choice for our industry is how best to address them -in silos and fragments, or collectively and internationally.

I am convinced that the answer is the latter option. Working together is so much quicker and so much more effective than working alone. And I hope that PRCA MENA, as an integral part of the world’s largest PR association and the world’s largest PR umbrella body, will lead the way in doing just that, in a truly global way.

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