The Only Way Is Ethics

In the PR industry we’re all about using media to improve reputation. But when does good selling become bad ethics?

All attention in the PR world this week is on ethics, as global agency Bell Pottinger has been thrown out of the Public Relations & Communications Association.

The agency was found to have breached various professional charters and codes of conduct in its work for a South African conglomerate, Oakbay Investment, owned by the wealthy Gupta family.

Its ‘economic emancipation’ campaign used a fake blog and Twitter account to stir up anger about “white monopoly capital” and “economic apartheid” – drawing attention away from the​ Guptas, who have allegedly benefited financially from their links to President Zuma. It also misled journalists who questioned the campaign.

Bell Pottinger’s campaign was found by the PRCA to be “unethical” and “likely to inflame racial discord in South Africa”.

Of course this isn’t just bad PR, it’s bad ethics.

Bell Pottinger is an extreme case but, when it comes to bad PR decision-making, sadly the list goes on.

In 2015, the Department for Work and Pensions admitted using fake case studies to positively spin a controversial policy.

In 2016, Fuel PR was banned from the PRCA after using one of its own employees as a fake case study for a client.

The more you think about it, there are many grey areas which brands and agencies navigate every day. A good phrase can become a half-truth can be become a down-right deception.

But representing your brand in the best light and using media to improve your reputation should never come at the cost of honesty and decency.

As the PRCA says, we “have a duty to deal fairly and honestly with the media and the public”.

At Cool Blue, we like to win the right way – through engaging content and strong relationships. We’ve built and saved reputations this way, and we’re proud of it.

If you want to discuss your next campaign or solve an ethical PR dilemma, get in touch on june.kelly@coolblue.co.uk or 0191 375 9150