Ethics – or the lack of them - are in the spotlight following the spectacular collapse of global PR giant Bell Pottinger.
The firm, based in London, has been kicked out of the UK's industry body over a campaign orchestrated in South Africa.
According to reports, the head of the Public Relations and Communications Association Bell Pottinger's actions were the "most blatant instance of unethical PR practice I've ever seen".
This is the way it rolls for the ethics: It’s an invisible policy, but when it goes wrong, it’s all over the media. People inside and outside the industry line up to condemn these PR practitioners for breaking the rules.
One report in the wake of the Bell Pottinger case, for example, claimed that PR people were ‘liars for hire’.
In Australia, PRIA members are bound not just by an ethics code, but by professional conduct standards. There’s no liars, fibbers or benders of the truth. And if members do step out of line they face a professional investigation by the College of Fellows – and then an appropriate censure, fine, suspension or expulsion.
For the PRIA, ethics are moral principles; our rules of conduct.
For every PRIA member, ethics define what we can do, and what we cannot, in our professional lives. For us, ethical practice is about doing the right thing. Our Code of Ethics guides us to conduct ourselves professionally with integrity, truth, fairness and responsibility.
Of course you don’t need to sign up to a Code of Ethics to abide by the principles.
But we know from experience that the majority of ethics breaches that people in the industry report to us come from non-members.
So there’s a message here for PRF practitioners: If you are serious about ethics, perhaps you should sign up to the PRIA and tell the world, particularly your organisation and your clients. At the very least they will know you are not one of those liars for hire.