Why an ethical approach to PR is good for your career

I gave a lecture to PR undergraduates recently on ethics. I asked the students what they would do if they worked in an agency and were asked to write fake reviews for a client’s product – saying the product was excellent, but without disclosing that they were PR people rather than real customers.

The vast majority of people thought that was wrong, but a handful said they’d go right ahead. After all, they said, if they’re being paid, they should do the task.

Indeed, it was pointed out to me that on student placements in PR agencies, students are apparently often asked to do this very task.

Quite aside from the fact that this behaviour breaks professional codes of conduct, I explained that working at an agency where this sort of practice is encouraged was actually a bad career move. There are a range of core skill in public relations, one of which is being able to gain third-party endorsements. That requires thought and ability – and has contributed to the relatively high salaries that many people in PR enjoy. Conversely, anyone can write a fake review – you only have to pay them minimum wage. Or outsource the tasks abroad.

By working in a rogue agency that asks for fakery, people won’t gain the skills to get them up the career ladder. Hence, ethics and success really do go hand in hand.

P.S. I was pleased to see that the CIPR has made ethics a compulsory part of its Continuing Professional Development programme – a sound and welcome move.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: October 5th, 2014, In Categories: Ethics

A new blog review of The PR Masterclass

Rebecca Cotzec writes:

[The PR Masterclass] does not waste a word, with every page full of tips and suggestions. Alex Singleton also intersperses the book with his own personal experiences and antidotes, which gives the book a human feel and in some cases even acts as motivation.

One of the nice things about the book is that it gives you a real PR pro’s views on a lot of the theories and myths you’re sure to come across online. Alex Singleton’s uses the book to share personal experiences and research to suggest and warn against certain tools that a quick Google search will tell you are a must.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: October 1st, 2014, In Categories: PR books

One of the world’s top charity communicators on what shines through in a PR job interview

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: August 22nd, 2014, In Categories: Corporate Comms

New PRCA toolkit on the economics of reputation

If you’re interested in the reputation of your organisation, this is excellent:

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: August 9th, 2014, In Categories: Corporate Comms

Why do buyers hire corporate communications consultants?

SHORTLY AFTER writing a blog post on the “The ‘anything but selling’ brigade in PR“, a fervent debate began on Twitter and elsewhere, started by Robert Phillips. He argued that “PR is dead” and denounced “Its business model, dominated on the consultancy side by bloated networks selling bureaucracy over transformation and generalists over deep expertise”. Curiously, he suggested replacing PR with something called “Public Leadership”.

Personally, I don’t buy the notion that the PR networks sell bureaucracy. They are successful precisely because they offer a lower-cost alternative to expanding in-house teams. They are more easily sackable than in-house teams and their performance is more frequently monitored. Moreover, companies hire big agencies precisely because they have a huge range of in-house expertise.

Anyway, back to Mr Phillips’s point about “Public Leadership”. On the one hand, this sounds like semantics. PR practitioners – ever since Ivy Lee – have advocated that companies should lead the debate. There are significant commercial advantages in being the first to understand public opinion and act on it. On the other hand, the Twitter discussion became much stranger after Mike Love, of Burson Marsteller, asked the eminently sensible question:

Robert Phillips replied with:

Mr Phillips then denounced “mad market fundamentalists”, which made him sound like a member of some hard-Left wing pressure group. Consultancies have to market and sell their expertise, because if they didn’t, they’d go out of business. Mr Phillips didn’t seem to respond to Mike Love’s comment on KPIs, but the reason CEOs authorise significant sums for corp comms departments, reputation management, public affairs, social media engagement and the like is because they believe that how they engage with stakeholders has an effect on their reputation, which leads to sales and sustainable profits.

Were the PR industry – or whatever it could be called – to go around saying that it has nothing to do with sales, I somehow doubt it would survive for too long.

Posted By: Alex Singleton, On: March 31st, 2014, In Categories: Corporate Comms