‘Public relations ethics’ is not an oxymoron.By Lisa Goldsberry
July 7, 2014
Learn what behavior to expect from your PR agency
When you hire a new employee, you expect him to be conscientious, loyal and ethical. You should require no less from your PR agency.
Since the profession’s beginning, the words “public relations” have become synonymous with terms like “shady,” “unscrupulous” and “spin doctor.” Nonetheless, not all PR firms and professionals are created equal. Ask the right questions to ensure you’re getting a PR agency that stands up for your company’s ideals and reputation.
Case 1: An accident or major personnel incident has occurred and someone at your company is at fault. For example, a worker was hurt due to improperly inspected equipment, or a senior staff member is accused of harassment. Your PR representative advises you to be less than truthful in order to reduce any liability.
Why this is wrong: Aside from the obvious moral low ground, lies and corporate dishonesty have a nasty habit of revealing themselves eventually. While it might save you from appearing in court immediately, when the truth is discovered (and it will be), it will ultimately cost you even more in terms of customer trust and brand image.
Questions to ask prior to a crisis: Request information about a previous crisis and ask the PR pros how they handled it. You might also wish to ask about the overall outcome from the incident, such as whether the client lost customers as a result and whether the company bounced back.
Case 2: Your goal is to increase media coverage and company exposure. The PR agency guarantees that it can get you in specific media outlets in less than three months.
Why this is wrong: Any PR firm that is willing to guarantee results should ring alarm bells. At best, it’s simply making false promises it won’t be able to deliver. At worst, it employs unethical tactics that may come back to bite you later.
Questions to ask about media relations efforts: You need to know about the firm’s media connections in your industry and if it has success stories that demonstrate its capabilities. While the agency won’t be able to guarantee the exact same results for you, this information is a good indicator that it will be able to deliver without resorting to nefarious tactics.
Case 3: You have encountered a slew of negative consumer and product reviews online, all directed at you. In response, your PR representative suggests that you write and post fake reviews to improve your standing.
Why this is wrong: No matter how well-written, audiences can typically identify the bogus reviews for what they are. Additionally, consumers and moderators have exposed several companies employing this practice, leading to lawsuits, hundreds of thousands of dollars in fines and decreased public trust.
Questions to ask about online reputation management: Your PR firm should be able to discuss ethical methods it uses to combat negative feedback and postings. It must have a firm grasp on approaches such as blogging, search engine optimization and methods for regaining control of your online reputation.
Of course, no one can predict every type of ethical situation that could arise for your PR firm. However, be sure to ask for a copy of the agency’s ethics policies before making a hiring decision. That way, you’ll know that when given a choice, your PR agency is more likely to choose the most ethical option.
At Axia, we are honest and upfront with our clients, even (and especially) when the news is not necessarily what they want to hear. We use the latest PR strategies and initiatives to help you build your brand and increase profits – while keeping our ethics intact. Register for our 60-Second Impact to learn more.
Lisa Goldsberry is a writer for Axia Public Relations with more than 15 years of public relations experience. She specializes in business, higher education and technology PR. Connect with Axia Public Relations on Twitter at @axiapr.
Topics: public relations
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