'Ethics is a word that is merely window dressing in the Middle East'

As Global Alliance marks its first ever Global Ethics Month, Louay Al-Samarrai, joint MD of Active DMC, says that, far too often, companies are simply paying lip service when it comes to a code of ethics.


Ethics is a word that – like professional – is used a great deal both here in the region, in our profession and across many others, but what is it? What does that mean in practice?

Ethics are a code of conduct for an individual, associations, corporations and governing bodies – designed to stop the abuse of power, corruption and behaviour that is deemed immoral.

Today this code of conduct is being undermined and we can see this every day on our news feeds with the behaviour of President Trump and his administration, to Brexit, to the present UK Government, as well as other leaders in Europe and further afield.

Setting an ethical example

This does not set a good example for us all and can signal to individuals, associations and corporations that it’s OK to undermine the principles behind ethics.

The bright spot globally is that because of social media and the ability today to have platforms that open our views, opinions and ideas up to a much wider audience than friends, relatives and colleagues – corporations are more accountable than the people in politics.

Authenticity delivers huge benefits to those that practise it consistently and this is a lesson that many brands and individuals have learned, although there are examples to the contrary – Prince Andrew and Boeing to name but two.

Authenticity is acting ethically, honestly and transparently and companies are seeing this have a positive impact on their sales and thus bottom lines and shareholder dividends.

So we not only hold this dear internally but work hard to ensure that our clients see the benefits of ethics and authenticity and act accordingly.

‘Window dressing'

In this region, ethics, professionalism and corporate social responsibility are words and phrases that are used frequently and are often - sadly – mere window dressing for brands and companies to pay the necessary 'lip service' to these elements, but in reality are prone to interpretation.

We see that many within the PR industry subscribe to ethics, whether it is on their websites or in the associations that they are members of, but in varying degrees tend to act in their own self-interest above all else. We see this in the area of recruitment, pitches, client conflicts within the same agency and in our media relations work.

‘Self-policing mechanism'

It is subtle in some cases and more obvious in others, but the fact is that it happens and is reliant on a self-policing mechanism, versus any recognised official body or mediation, and thus does not have the 'bite' that it does in other regions of the world.

When you think of the many agencies that claim the title of PR, its easy to see how the issue of ethics can get lost – there is such a wide range of operations, from small one- to two-person operations to agencies of 30-plus. Many of them are not subscribed to any of the associations or bodies that require at least some guarantee that they operate ethically, so it’s actually impossible to say categorically that an ethical approach and culture is being applied across the industry or – in some cases – even being acknowledged.

It is important to state at this juncture that many in our sector do operate ethically, but we have witnessed those that don’t and whilst it is frustrating, there is little we can do but adjust to the inevitable costs of these on our business and move forward.

One of the responses to this might be that clients will work only with agencies that subscribe to and can illustrate that they act ethically, but we know that this isn’t the case, with the issue rarely, if ever, raised by clients working or present in this region as part of the pitch process or at the time of engagement.

Their focus is on cost and we all know what happens when you try to 'buy cheap'.

Louay Al-Samarrai is joint managing director of regional PR firm Active DMC

Louay Al-Samarrai is joint managing director of regional PR firm Active DMC

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