Why ethics is the future of PR

“The next step is to explore not what you do, but why you do it”. PRplace.com’s editor Richard Bailey recently published a powerful reminder about the state of the PR working environment. If we want to move beyond the event management, content marketing and media relations technician role, we need to demonstrate leadership, champion the importance of ethical business and help organisations articulate their purpose. “Those who can do better, advise” Bailey urges.

Because ethics represent the future of the profession

Moving to this next step is crucial for the future of our profession and the task is not easy. It involves the complex understanding of an organisation’s environment, key players and drivers. Moreover, it requires practitioners to see beyond their department’s responsibilities and consider other core business activities. Becoming a PR advisor means mastering strategic communication thinking but also understanding other business pressures at play. So, having a holistic view of the business is the answer to help better assess risks and opportunities.

Having recently read the findings of the 2018 Institute of Business Ethics report, I was alarmed to discover that ethics in the workplace represented one of today’s most overlooked challenges, and therefore an important reputational risk for many organisations out there:

  • Nearly one in three employees have been aware of misconduct at work;
  • Attitudes of managers towards unethical practice have become more tolerant over time;
  • Less than a quarter of employees are incentivised to behave ethically.

Because the balance of power is changing

The workplace landscape is evolving fast, placing the role of ethics at the epicentre of communication strategies. Organisations gradually increase their footprint on the global stage as economic systems and multinational corporations that are no longer limited by borders. Despite international trade advantages, globalisation too often leaves the impression that brands are free to operate without any constraints, free from the rule of law.

Businesses need trust in order to maintain their social licence to operate
Institute of Business Ethics

The Institute of Business Ethics notes that “it generally doesn’t take long before the knock-on effects coming from corruption, ethically questionable business practices and unfair competition take their toll on business success and sustainability. Furthermore, public perception that business is not being held accountable for its actions has a significant negative impact on how much people trust organisations to contribute to the development of society”.

Because ethical business means better business

Supportive environments for ethics produce positive results for organisations. They facilitate open and transparent communication and foster enhanced ethical standards. According to the Institute for Business Ethics, accountable organisations lead to:

  • More positive perceptions of how frequently honestly is practiced at work.
  • Fewer people being aware of instance of misconduct.
  • Less pressure to compromise ethics.
  • Increased willingness to speak up about misconduct.

Importantly, it has also been ascertained that ethical behaviour and CSR can lead to increased sales and profits, reduce labour turnover and increase productivity, attract more employees and reduce recruitment costs and attract investors and keep financial value high.

Wherever there is injustice or human need there is, strangely enough, an ethical business opportunity
Jonathan Self, Author of Good Money: Become an Ethical Entrepreneur

As a professional body tied to a strict code of conduct, PR practitioners and communication strategists can no longer be expected to be the clean-up crew. PR cannot be the panacea for bad behaviour. It cannot fix bad behaviour. We need to be able to influence decisions at a strategic level and help leaders articulate their brand’s purpose. Businesses that ignore stakeholders’ sentiment take terrible risks. Meanwhile, organisations that are embracing ethical standards and corporate social responsibility are opening themselves to opportunity. PR should act as the corporate conscience and tap into the best of human nature: the will to make a difference.

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