Why there’s a need for ethical PR

Trust in some of our most established institutions has over the last decade or so declined rapidly, and unsurprisingly questions have also been raised over the integrity of the PR industry. Scandals such as Bell Pottinger in South Africa last year have done huge harm to the reputation of our industry, and its right that the industry should be scrutinised and held to a high standard.

All of these developments have, however, made me feel ever more passionately about the need for an ethical and values-driven approach to how we do PR. Right now, a lot of people will claim that they are ethical and that this drives their practices and how they work. But what does taking an ethical approach in our industry really mean?

I set up Aequitas 10 years ago because I believed words and ideas can change lives. I wanted my company to have this ethos at its core and be focused on seeking out transformative leaders in the public, private and third sector who were committed to changing the world for better. Never has this been more important than today.

This means we have to ensure that everything we do conform to a high ethical standard. It is our responsibility to ensure that those we work for also conform to this standard, and if a client falls short of those standards, then frankly, it’s encumbant upon us to part company.

The tactics we employ when delivering work also have to be grounded in our ethical values. This means that if we work with political candidates we won’t employ tactics that spread hate or sow division, and if we work with businesses then we help them to grow their companies while also investing in the communities where they operate.

Working in emerging markets, where governance mechanisms are not always as established or embedded as in more developed markets, and where societies are often organised along religious, ethnic or tribal lines, can present challenges and makes it even more critical to ensure our work reflects and represents our values. And sometimes we and the industry get it wrong. But I am immensely proud of our work and am delighted that it has been recognised by industry bodies, including a commendation by the PRCA in their Ethical Champions Award category, and most recently a nomination for the 2018 PRWeek Global Awards.

Public relations has a vital, powerful and influential role in the world and the PR industry does some amazing things. But for our industry to truly flourish we all need to hold ourselves to high standards and deliver not just for our clients but also for wider society. It is incumbent on us to help rebuild trust in public relations, to tackle misperceptions about our work, and to openly discuss why we do what we do, how we do it, and the vision of the world we believe we can help to achieve. This is the right approach from an ethical standpoint, but it also makes good business sense.

Dorothea Hodge, Founding Director 

Chris Lee