Ethics and why it should matter more than ever to today’s communicators

If there’s ever a word to kill a conversation, it’s ethics. Despite our job being all about reputations, we’ve not given ethics the importance and time that it deserves. This is changing, thanks in part to the efforts of a number of associations, including the Global Alliance, the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ), the International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO), and the International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), there’s a renewed focus on putting ethics at the heart of what we do and why we do it.

But why does ethics matter, really? Let me first state the obvious; communications has undergone a drastic change over the past decade, owing to the rise of digital channels and social media platforms. Today, it’s easier than ever to reach a global audience through the likes of Facebook or Google. And it’s also easier than ever to manipulate these platforms, to share messages that are false through personas which are fake.

I’m not talking theory here. We all saw the work that was undertaken by Bell Pottinger in South Africa, which led to its collapse. I live in a region which is being consumed by online trolls, botnets and other unethical activity, much of which is reported to be undertaken not by individuals but by organizations.

It is in this context that we need to renew our commitment to undertaking the best ethical practice, which will apply to every single one of us, no matter where we work and how long we’ve spent in the industry.

The sixteen principles which were announced this week by the Global Alliance are a guide that we should all use in terms of how we ourselves practice and represent our profession. We have a responsibility to society, to our stakeholders and to fellow professionals to uphold these principles in everything that we say and we do.

Looking back, what I’m most proud of when I read over the ethics announcement made by the Global Alliance today is that the taskforce that has worked on this represents the majority of associations and communicators worldwide. There’s a growing realization that we need to step up and not just demonstrate that we are against unethical practices as one, but that we’re adopting best practices. We want to be an industry that promotes positive messages, rather than a profession which is known by monikers such as ‘spin doctors’.

Jean and the other task force members have put significant thought and energy into this project, and this is only the beginning. You’ll find resources such as case studies, podcasts, newsletters and advisories that will bring ethics to life through storytelling. This archive will grow, thanks to you and your submissions from around the world. We have to ensure that ethics remains at the core of our industry, and that we feel able to stand up when we see or are asked to do something which is unethical.

I’d like to thank Jean, Jose Manuel and everyone who has given time to bring this project to life. We all owe them a debt of gratitude for their efforts to promote a stronger, more ethical communications and public relations industry. My last request is to all of you. Please use these resources, learn from them and let them guide you when it comes to ethical communications. Let’s be known as an industry that is one of, if not the most, ethical in terms of what we say and what we do.

This post first appeared on the Global Alliance website.

Pinkwashing and why firms in the UAE must do better on cause-engagement

WTCAD Photo

Does this image convey a message on breast cancer awareness to you? No, me neither.

October has passed, and I wanted to share a summary of some of the corporate outreach I’ve seen around the perennial cause of choice at this time of year, namely breast cancer. In many countries around the world, including the UAE, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, which is an annual campaign to increase awareness of the disease.

I’m writing this post in the hope that brands understand the need not only to raise awareness of Breast Cancer, but also to support charities either through direct contributions or through cause-related marketing, such as providing a percentage of revenues for a specific product to a charity.

Here are examples of how some brands are promoting themselves, whilst not doing enough in my opinion to support a charity cause.

Staying in The Pink of Health – Tea Time at Al Bayt, Palace Downtown

Honestly, I don’t know where to begin with this idea. Is it enough to create a tenuous link to breast cancer by the use of the color pink (in this case, afternoon tea with a pink theme), without supporting a local charity?

The palatial surroundings and views of Burj Lake at Al Bayt, our lobby lounge, enlivens the time-honoured tradition of afternoon tea. The experience takes on an even more special dimension during the month of October, where you not only savour an assortment of delicious sweet and savoury treats with an unlimited selection of premium tea and coffee, but also participate in the Breast Cancer Awareness initiative every Wednesday, Friday and Saturday with a special pink theme. We see it as part of our social responsibility, an experience we encourage you to share with friends and family.

Pink yoga session promotes breast cancer awareness at The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi

While there’s a link between exercise and cancer, does a ‘Pink Yoga’ session warrant a media communication? Is this another unwarranted attempt to PR a charity issue, without enough thought as to what the call to action will be?

Hotel guests got in the pink yesterday in support of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

The St. Regis Saadiyat Island Resort, Abu Dhabi hosted a session of ‘Pink Yoga’ to promote the health benefits of regular exercise – with all participants asked to wear the color.

Admission was complimentary for people staying at the resort, members of The St. Regis Athletic Club, where the class was held.

People who visit the hotel on or before Saturday will be greeted by a floral arrangement of blush-hued blooms in keeping with the annual health campaign, which is held around the globe each October.

The flowers will remain in the building’s main entrance until Saturday.

Researchers have identified a link between the likelihood of developing breast cancer and being overweight or obese. Regular physical activity and the maintenance of a healthy body weight, along with a healthy diet, can considerably reduce the risk of developing several kinds of the disease, the World Health Organization has stated.

Go Pink This Month With Tweezerman

This announcement takes the prize for the worst possible communication on breast cancer. Whilst the company says that it allocates a portion of its profits to charitable organizations, while actively supporting local communities, there’s no mention anywhere in the communications of who these recipients may be or if my purchase during the month will mean a contribution to a local charity in the UAE. The communication is below:

Pink tweezerman

The beauty tool brand, loved by makeup artists and beauty enthusiasts alike, both locally and internationally, Tweezerman presents the Pink Slant Tweezer in honour of Breast Cancer awareness month.

Like every beauty tool by Tweezerman the Pink Slant Tweezer has a perfectly calculated tension and ergonomic shape for comfort and control and an award-winning hand – filled precision tip, the best for eyebrow shaping.

How To Get Cause-Related Marketing Right

There are so many more bad examples from October out there (including the featured image at the top of the post). Dressing your staff in pink, serving cupcakes and then communicating with the media/through digital channels doesn’t mean that you’re supporting the fight against breast cancer.

I’ve written on the issue of not-for-profit marketing right before, but it still seems that brands aren’t understanding that they need to put in more than a couple of hours thought into this type of exercise. Here’s a simple to-do list:

  1. Build your activity around a consumer insight.
  2. Make sure your brand aligns with the cause.
  3. Involve a charity partner and define your brand’s social responsibility.
  4. Develop a simple promise/call-to-action using clear messaging and accountable outcomes.

If you’re not getting these four steps right, then don’t jump in. The worst thing you can do for a brand is either pinkwash or greenwash. You’re eroding consumer trust in your brand, and your customers will move to another brand that they deem to be more honest.

Brands in the UAE, I hope you’re listening.