All good public relations people understand the importance of ethical behavior. Credibility is the currency of effective communications, and any dishonest or deceptive behavior debases that currency. Having said that, the industry’s own reputation suggests that many of its practitioners have a hard time living up to the highest ethical standards, whether engaging in “spin,” making exaggerated claims, or representing clients whose actions are harmful to consumer health or the environment. In the past, both agencies and clients might have been able to get away with such questionable practices, but in an age of radical transparency and greater consumer activism, bad behavior is being discovered much more quickly and punished much more severely in the marketplace.

That ought to work to the benefit of Utopia Communications, a New Jersey-based PR firm that just two or three years ago might have seemed ahead of its time. Utopia’s mission is to provide ethical public relations advice and execution to organizations, ideas, people, products and services “that enhance the human condition.” The firm’s mission, as defined by founder and chief executive Ann Willets: “Changing the World; One Client at a Time.”

Words, of course, are cheap, but Willets had backed them up with actions. She is the first (and so far the only) officially endorsed ethics trainer for Trust Inc. in North America, and has worked with the Council of Public Relations Firms and the Public Relations Society of America to provide ethics training to their members.

The firm’s client list includes Uno Chicago Grill, Affinity Federal Credit Union, the Lt Zilinski Memorial Fund, Selective Wine Estates, and Regional Training Centers, with new business over the past 12 months coming from First Financial Federal Credit Union, Mayfair Technologies, Performance Plus Marketing, and CMDS. Highlights of the past 12 months include Operation Pizza Bowl for Uno Chicago Grill, providing deep dish pizza to feed troops in Iraq and Afghanistan during the Superbowl; and a thought leadership effort based on research into key trends in performance and motivation on behalf of Performance Plus Marketing.

“The Utopia team are first rate professionals who take care of the big picture story while guiding the client through all the ‘nitty gritty’ details that can trip up even the most media savvy,” says Richard Hendrie, senior vice president of marketing at Uno. “They are a delight to work with and I heartily recommend them to anyone seeking high energy and great results.” Adds Jessica Revoir, marketing manager for First Financial: “Utopia Communications is the go-to company for anything and everything public relations. In just three short months they were able to turn the way in which we communicated with the community around… Media coverage is great, they work quickly, and are very highly recommended.”

Along with Willets (who previously worked for New York area public relations firms KCSA and Austin Nichols), the firm’s leadership team included managing director Anna Brodetsky, formerly of JFK Communications and Nike Communications with experience ranging from luxury consumer goods to healthcare, and senior vice president Deobrah Radman, who joined the firm last year and brings a wealth of agency experience, including leadership roles at CKPR, Stanton Communications and KCSA.