Views: The need for ethical standards

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AN essay in When In Doubt, Make Applesauce! Core Habits of the Masterful Public Relations Professional (Cherrymoon Media, Lexington, Kentucky USA, Nov. 2022).

By Francis Ingham (pictured), late director general, Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) and chief executive, International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO).

I interpret character and integrity as falling under one simple umbrella term — ethical practice. 

The past Covid years have shown beyond contradiction the enormous power of our profession. In a period where Governments and businesses often had no way to interact with people other than via communications, PR practitioners rose to the challenge magnificently.

But the proof of that power also shows the importance of embedding ethical standards within it.

Because a power that was used for good can also be abused.

That’s why ethics — unquestionable character and integrity — is so important.

Now we all have our own sense and standards of morality. But to be defined clearly, that needs to be set within a context. And in our industry, that context means the framework of codes of conduct.

To be candid, codes can be meaningful. Or they can be meaningless. I believe the PRCA code has been shown to be meaningful. It is robust. It is clear. And, vitally, it is enforced.

But if we are honest, there are still so many practitioners who ascribe to no code at all. And plenty of national association codes are virtually irrelevant. I make that contrast not out of vain smugness or pride. But instead as a plea and a rallying cry. Our industry’s influence is such that for it to be unregulated, for it to be the Wild West of professional services, demeans us. We are simply better than this.

The most successful practitioners within our community set themselves high standards, and allow themselves to be held accountable to them. They accept and indeed embrace the fact that public expectations of ethical practice and of transparency and accountability are vastly different to even a decade ago. And that is what marks out excellence in our profession from mere mediocrity.