On more than one occasion I have explained my position that ethics is public relations are determined primarily by the kind of advice a consultant provides, not the identity of the client to whom it is provided.
As usual, Peter Sandman can explain this issue better than I can, and does so in response to a reader’s question about whether he would provide risk communications advice to BP and at what point the company’s failure to heed that advice would cause him to withdraw.
The whole post is worth reading—one gets the sense of Sandman’s thinking through his position, considering the objections to it, and formulating a coherent ethical stance—but the core point is this:
“Suppose a company is willing to follow my advice (at least some of it) on how to respond better to public outrage. It’s willing to be more transparent about its past sins and current problems; it’s willing to share more control with stakeholders and negotiate accountability mechanisms instead of demanding to be trusted; it’s willing to listen to criticism more openly and more empathically. But it has a bad safety record, worse than the records of most of its peer companies...
“It is my fervent conviction that helping such companies be responsive to their stakeholders—including the very activists who excoriate me for working with those companies—is a significant step toward substantive improvement. That is also my experience after 40-plus years as a risk communication consultant.”
It’s my experience too, after more than 25 years as an observer of the public relations industry.