Is 2020 the year the PR profession unites on ethical conduct?

Posted on 01/01/2020


The public relations profession has a shocking end to the decade from an ethical perspective.

The collapse of Bell Pottinger opened the door to a renewed focus on the ethics of the profession. PR agencies suddenly woke up to the stark reality that they can’t act behind closed doors with impunity.

Yet, problems persist. Especially among some “old school” traditionalists.

The ongoing “pride-washing” and “astro-turfing” accusations are not only damaging for brands, but to their marketing agencies as well.

Even in the world of political communications, problems still happen despite the merger of the two main codes of conduct governing that sector. Ruth Davidson MSP was widely castigated and forced to resign from a job at lobbying firm Tulchan.

There is also criticism of a Manchester agency MC2 for strategising to rebuild the reputation of a convicted killer (the same agency has been hired to help the Government’s Northern Powerhouse drive and its founder is on the board of the Rugby League 2021 World Cup).

It’s time the profession got serious about our ethical standards.

Late last year, I was elected to be the 2020 Chair of the Public Relations & Communications Association (PRCA) Council.

Industry leaders who voted for me backed the pledges I made to focus the work of the Council on renewing the profession’s focus on ethics, social impact and diversity.

The National Union of Journalists (NUJ) has also elected a Chair of its PR branch seeking to bolster the ethics of a profession.

So what needs to be done?

First, we need to ensure our code of conducts are fit for purpose.

Second, we need to make sure our colleagues are aware of what these codes mean and what it means for them.

Finally, we need to call out agencies that are not signatories to a code of conduct (it’s notable that neither Tulchan nor MC2 are members of the PRCA or the NUJ, from what I can tell).

No client should be hiring a firm in the 21st Century that won’t commit to an ethical code of conduct.

Working together as a profession means we can re-boot our ethical standards and ensure we can leave the poor reputations of “old school” PR firms behind us.

Featured image: Laurence Arnold, Flickr / Creative Commons