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.