If you’re a qualified PR professional, ethical practice is a 24/7 ‘always on’ responsibility, but I really support the awareness work the Global Alliance for Public Relations and Communications Management and here in the UK, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations is doing across February as part of Ethics Month.
For some professionals, such as medicine and law, the licence to practice is based on achieving mandatory professional qualifications, but in PR, communications and marketing it’s an opt-in choice and there are low barriers to entry to enable a person to pitch themselves as a marketing consultant.
It’s critical the wider business world understands that not all PR, Communications and Digital Marketing Consultants are equal and that there is greater recognition for professionally qualified consultants.
In an era of fake news, the new possibilities technology enables and changing societal attitudes it is critical that organisations take advice from qualified consultants who consider the ethical, reputational and legal ramification of communications activity. Placing trust in the hands of those who don’t consider or respect ethics could cost more than reputation – it could land you in court.
Working with a practitioner who is actively engaged in continuous professional development is a good way for those outside of the industry to be sure they are getting the best consultancy advice.
Within the PR profession I’m proud to be a Chartered PR Practitioner as it indicates:
- A trusted third-party Chartered Body has assessed and validated my skills
- I am committed to continuous professional development and must dedicate time to learning and development annually
- I am committed and bound by professional standards – in PR the CIPR Code of Conduct
- There is a complaints procedure should my practice standards fall short – for me it’s the CIPR Professional Standards Panel
- I have been assessed not just on my technical skills, but ethics and business strategy
When advising clients I always start with the reminder that I can’t be paid to give them the advice they want to hear – and this may mean the ethical dilemma of walking away from work, which in the current climate is not an easy choice, but still the right one.
I recognise there are some great, experienced, honest PR consultants out there who haven’t yet formalised their valuable on-the-job learning into a professional qualification. I hope this blog will encourage them to get the recognition they deserve, but meanwhile it’s also fair to recognise that being a great practitioner is about more than just the letters after your name.
As well as professional qualifications, there are behaviours and practices that easily distinguish the good from the bad. Consider the following watch outs, and avoid putting your reputation into the hands of any practitioners who demonstrate any of these behaviours at all cost.
- Good consultancy costs – look beyond the budget quoted and understand the way the consultant operates. Bargain basement prices are a sure sign that short cuts may be taken – such as using unpaid work experience, low staff welfare leading to people churn or there is no investment in resources such as specialist software and time for continuous professional development.
- Don’t ever fake it – case studies, ‘strawpoll’ research, customer reviews – should never ever be manufactured – the cost to your reputation will be huge if you take a risk associating your brand with fake content.
- If you’re paying for it – be honest. Whether it’s working with influencers, sponsoring content or using paid media support. Be clear on what is PR and ‘earned’ exposure and what has been bought.
- There’s no guarantees in PR – data, expertise and experience means a good consultant will know what outcomes to expect, but consultants that make big claims not rooted in evidence or strategy are making promises they may not be able to keep. It will sound convincing in the pitch, but could come back to bite later when results aren’t in line with expectations.
- Avoid consultants who use Advertising Value Equivalent (AVE) – Placing a financial value on PR has been rejected by industry experts such as the Association of Measurement & Evaluation of Communication (AMEC) for years. It sounds pretty racy to FDs or those looking to a map a direct line between investment and outcomes, but if a consultant promises to deliver ‘£x thousand pounds in publicity’ please put your cheque book away. There is a wealth of metrics we can now use to demonstrate the impact of PR and at spottydog we start with the Barcelona Principles 3.0 as developed by AMEC.
- Be open to consultancy – you may start the conversation with ‘I’m looking for someone to manage my social media’, but a good consultant will first want to understand your strategic goals and may suggest an alternative approach. Bad consultants will say yes to what you’ve asked for, take your money and run when the activity doesn’t deliver.
Interested in the subject of ethics and want to learn more? Visit the Chartered Institute of Public Relations Professional Standards page here which features podcast, resources, details of the free Ethics Hotline, Code of Conduct and the Professional Standards Panel.