PR ethics — how the Kellyannes and Seans make me worry about my reputation

Picture: Staffan Eliasson

The PR industry, busy with solving their clients’ reputation, has not always prioritized its own. Admittedly, that is not an easy task, when you are instrumental in articulating someone else’s business or politics in order to achieve greater strategic goals.

As consumers become more aware of the implications of the products and services they purchase, they become selective — and even become activists — when it comes to whom they spend their money with. That has been the main drive for brands to revise their production and distribution so as to brand themselves as responsible businesses. That has allowed the communications tribe to argue for ethics and has helped this profession’s reputation — this is what I argue, though I do not have evidence that supports my claim.

Times have changed, though. In this post-modern approach to what facts are, in this time of “fake news”, “alternative facts” and terrorist attacks that never took place, the Kellyannes and Seans of this life are making me, a PR manager who is proud of his own mission and professional identity, uncomfortable and worried.

“The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior”, according to the definition by The Internet Encyclopaedia of Philosophy.

In his book “SPIN — How to turn the power of the press to your advantage”, Michael S. Sitrick gives an (understandably) US-centered historic perspective on how my profession came about and approaches the inherent negative connotation of the term “spin”.

In my eyes, every group has good and bad professionals — whichever criteria we use to define ‘good’ and ‘bad’: from competence to ethics. And as such, people who feel they belong to the former will feel the latter group is ruining their reputation — nothing revolutionary about this thought (sorry).

My point is, PR is not a rotten profession.

We are the ones who face internal opposition in our organisations describing how other people will perceive us. We are the ones pointing out how short-sighted gains are no match for a lasting brand equity. We are the ones who come up with difficult questions. We are the ones who hold the mirror so that our employers, colleagues and clients can look at themselves. When we bring in other perspectives, we use not only logic and common sense, but also empathy.

When working with the media, we are mindful of their checks and balances responsibility, their editorial logic, the personal pride they take in their work, the various constraints they operate in and the sheer fact that they themselves are often part of media companies which must generate business. Understanding them requires respect.

As a citizen, I hope — and trust — that journalists will find a way of addressing the spin doctors that make my jaw drop every time I read a paper or watch television. Dear media representatives: I am on your side and apologise for the trouble my profession colleagues are causing.

(This article has been originally published on www.speakingofpr.com)

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