Many people would scoff at the idea that the public relations industry is positioning itself at the forefront of transparency and ethical practice in business. The reputation of 1980s spin-doctors, with their smokescreens and dubious truth-hiding tactics, stained the profession and still linger in cultural memory.
The Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR), which represents our industry and sets the standards of PR practitioners’ ethical practice and values, holds a very different view – and rightly so. Its core values of honesty, integrity and transparency underpin everything that the institute does through its engagement with members, training, seminars and code of conduct.
I recently attended the CIPR Channel Islands PR Forum in Guernsey, and ethics in PR was a key focus point. Dr Jon White argued that the quality of boardroom decision-making needs improving. The financial crisis and more recently, the VW emissions scandal, suggests that high-level decisions are being made without considering ethics, integrity or reputation. PR practitioners have been pushing for greater representation at boardroom level for years, and it is here that we can add the most value.
In today’s digital world it is vital that businesses and corporations are transparent, ethical and trustworthy. Social media incites accountability and spinning the truth is no longer an option – you simply can’t get away with it. It’s estimated that 80 per cent of brand value is now held up in intangible assets, such as reputation and customer relationships. Look at VW; $16.9 billion was wiped off its market value in the week running up to CEO Martin Winterkorn’s resignation.
There is no denying that ethical practice, as well as being the right thing to do, affects the bottom line like never before. Ethics is the future of business, and PR is well placed to be its guide. As Dr Jon White, says, “there’s a space waiting for us at the boardroom table.” We just need to take our seat.