October 2017 is #Ethicsfest month, 31 days in which ethics is a talking point for all members of the CIPR. And in the North East, the CIPR regional group is proud to be taking part in that discussion.
As part of that discussion, I recently took part in a #commschat about ethics, which came about following the expulsion of Bell Pottinger from the PRCA in September amid its widespread condemnation. I also have a particular interest in corporate and social responsibility, having done some research as part of my CIPR Professional Diploma in Public Relations, so I was interested to hear from others in the industry to see how my views compare.
I was reassured that, contrary to my fear that ethics in communications is a topic that prompts much eye-rolling, the many participants, like me, see it as a vitally important subject. However, it must be pointed out that active participants in the debate are bound to feel like that. Nevertheless, throughout the chat, it was refreshing that all participants were fairly aligned in their thoughts on ethics.
For me, my fellow North East group members, and many other professional communicators, the practice of public relations is the application of ethics. We are, and should be the conscience of the organisations we represent. More often than not, it is the lack of understanding and value afforded public relations from outside the industry that contributes to ethical mis-steps being taken by organisations. But we must continue to challenge.
It’s great that #Ethicsfest continues to keep the issue of ethics in the communications spotlight in the wake of Bell Pottinger, and that value will hopefully be most felt outside the industry, in the gradual improvement in the wider understanding of PR. But we must all take care not to let this focus fade from November 1st.
As a dog isn’t only for Christmas, ethics isn’t only for October’s #Ethicsfest, but should be permanently front of mind in all we do as practitioners. It’s the reason the CIPR has introduced an ethics module as a permanent requirement of our annual continuing professional development records, and features ethics as such a huge part of the assessment for Chartership.
When I became a journalist, I did so to be part of the people’s watchdog, to bring comfort to those lacking power, while making the powerful uncomfortable by holding them to account on everyone’s behalf. This sensibility is no less applicable to my PR career, and I’m proud every day to be part of a profession highlighting ethical practice as the only acceptable way of operating.
I know my fellow committee members in the region feel the same way. Here’s what some of them had to say...
Matt Watson MCIPR, Treasurer: “Simply put, ethics has to be the cornerstone of our profession in an age of fake news and mistrust.”
Laura Richards MCIPR, Accredited Practitioner: “We've moved beyond the point where having a CSR policy is enough – public relations practitioners need to insist that businesses behave ethically 100 per cent of the time.”
Anne-Marie Lacey Chart. PR, MCIPR, Acting Chair: “There’s a fine line between ethics and morals; it’s something I explored as part of my #GetChartered assessment day and it really got me thinking…
“If ethics is about professionalism and doing the right thing in the workplace, then some might argue morals are your internal compass that guide you on a daily basis about right and wrong. Something may go against your personal morals, but professionally, is perfectly acceptable and vice versa. It’s a conundrum many PR practitioners face on a daily basis.
“For me, when faced with a difficult decision, I don’t just think about the CIPR’s Code of Conduct and my professional ethics, I also give real consideration to my own morals. If I wouldn’t act in a certain way in my personal life, I certainly wouldn’t do it at work. The same applies the other way around. For me, ethics, morals and professionalism transcend all areas of your life – it’s not something you can switch on and off every time you walk into or leave the office.
“On the odd occasion where I’m faced with a situation where there’s a lot of grey areas about the right thing to do in line with the Code of Conduct, I know there’s always the CIPR’s Ethics Hotline I can rely on too.”
Laurel Hetherington FCIPR: “I spend most of my working days either training or teaching (usually) young adults on PR and marcomms. And I know that to many of them ethics is a 'boring' word; if you're from a country where businesses routinely pay for coverage rather than genuinely earn it, or where followers are bought by the bucketload, they often see CIPR standards and ethics as unworkable in their real world.
“So my main challenge is to build into everything we do a sense of best practice and responsibility, so that whatever they are faced with, they have a moral compass to help them steer by. My favourite example is to use my 86-year-old mother – I always ask them to consider how they’d feel if their mother heard what they were doing or read about it in the local paper – boiled down to the basics like that I’d suggest that ethics then becomes worldwide and generational in meaning!”
We’re fortunate as members that we can direct our clients and organisations to the CIPR Code of Conduct as a benchmark for what they can expect from us. And as Anne-Marie mentions above, there’s also a free Ethics Hotline (0207 631 6969) for advice on how to manage ethical decisions.
Our next event in the North East will also look at ethics in a practical context, and is open to both members and non-members. Fake news, ad misplacement and brand implications: what to do when digital goes wrong, will take place at The Core on Bath Lane from 6pm on November 7th.
Book your place here: