Paul Holmes 06 May 2013 // 9:47PM GMT
I was not able to attend Cohn & Wolfe’s recent round table, which asked whether “PR is now the moral compass of a business?” But it’s an interesting topic, one that might draw guffaws from the journalistic community and NGOs—many of whom see PR as self-serving, mendacious and manipulative—while playing to the vanity of public relations professionals, many of whom have long considered their role to involve serving as “the conscience of the corporation.” That’s not a framing with which I am particularly comfortable. I’m not entirely convinced that most companies want a conscience and I suspect that formulation will have the undesired effect of marginalizing PR—since consciences tend to nag, and if PR people are perceived as the in-house nags, they are unlikely to be invited to participate in the decision-making process. But I do think there’s another way of looking at this issue, which is that if you are doing PR right, you don’t need a “moral compass.” To be clear, I do not mean to suggest that companies can get away with unethical behavior by using PR to obfuscate unacceptable activity, or to “spin” the truth in a way that makes the unpalatable palatable. Rather, I would argue that if companies are using public relations properly, considering the PR implications of their decisions during the policy-making process, they will necessarily make more ethical decisions. In this context, good PR involves asking the most elementary questions:
- How will this decision be perceived by our key stakeholders?
- How will this decision impact our stakeholder relationships?
- How will this decision effect our trust and credibility?
- How will we feel if this decision is the subject of story on network news or by a national newspaper?