When I was in college, every student in the School of Communications took Media Law and Ethics together. This meant that journalist majors and cinema majors and PR majors were all forced into an uneasy truce as we learned about Sunshine Laws, libel and slander, and of course ethics. One day, we were discussing some point of ethics, and an uppity journalism student raised her hand.
“It isn’t possible for a PR practitioner to be ethical,” the self-righteous ninny said.
Punching her in the face might have proven her point, so I restrained myself and engaged in civil discourse. “The first rule of PR,” I replied as primly as I could, “is to always tell the truth. Not only is it the right thing to do, you’ll always get caught being unethical. Always.”
And it’s true. Honesty is crucial in every area of public relations, from interviews with the media to press releases to social media. Think about it: public relations is, at its most basic core, about communicating with an audience. That could be customers, employees, shareholders, or the public at large. If the people you’re communicating to don’t trust you, they won’t listen to you, and your message gets lost in noise. Lying just shoots yourself in the foot. Besides that, this is the age of the Internet, the place where secrets go to die. It’s possible to fact-check nearly anything in a matter of moments, making you look like a lying, scummy fool.
So what can you do?
If you’re an agency, do the right thing. Yes, it’s faster and easier to cheat, but it will always bite you in the end. If something feels wrong, it probably is. Speak up and say something. If you’re an employee and your bosses ignore your objections, start looking for other work.
If you’re a client, demand the highest scruples from your company. It’s ultimately in your best interests because if the PR company gets caught being shady on your behalf, you’re just as much on the hook as they are. Don’t be left in the dark about what your agency is doing.
Roundpeg is an Indianapolis public relations firm which also offers social media, marketing strategy and web design services.