When I was young, naive and altruistic, I used to wish for all sorts of lovely things, like peace in the Middle East, an end to discrimination and that type of stuff. Now, I’m (a little) older, and my New Year’s wish list is a little shorter, and, I hope, much more reasonable.
On my 2018 list, there’s one wish. And I need your help to make it happen. It’s pretty simple really. All I’d like is a little more transparency in the region’s public relations industry. I’ve seen a couple of recent examples from senior executives on the agency side, and there seems to be a trend of agency people writing content for sharing, either on social media or through traditional media, which promotes their clients either directly or indirectly. Two examples from this month are below.
What’s also disappointing is that when asked about a client relationship, there’s no response.
My point isn’t about the content – both pieces are well written. Rather, it’s about the need to fully disclose our relationships as PR practitioners and communicators. We talk about the need to be open, and to foster debate. By not disclosing our paid relationships, and not responding when asked, we are doing neither. And, in case you didn’t know, disclosure is legally mandated by the Federal Trade Commission in the United States, the Advertising Standards Authority in the United Kingdom, and by other authorities in Europe.
The below tweet links to an opinion piece on Arabian Business, where a Burson Marsteller client is referenced (the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition) by the writer, who is the Chief Executive Officer of the public relations agency ASDA’A Burson-Marsteller. There’s no disclosure of this relationship, the opposite to how Ford is referenced in the article. And there’s no response to the question either.
To show those in the region how it can and should be done, have a look at the below from Bob Pickard, the Canada-based principal at Signal Leadership Communication. In his Tweet he’s not even referencing a client, but rather sharing his opinion as a client himself. His words underline exactly why we need to disclose our paid relationships, due to the implicit bias it causes.
My company mandates that I disclose when I tweet about a company issue, by using hashtags such as #employee, clearly stating my employer in my social media profile, and through any other means that would remove any doubt as to my relationship with the company. I’d also hope that companies here in the region would adopt similar transparency policies. They’re easy to find online – here’s one from P&G from 2011 which is openly available on the internet.
So, are you with me? Can we have disclosure and transparency when it comes to client relationships in the region? As always, let me know your thoughts.