Edelman Calls for Global PR Compact

In September, the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) ruled PR agency Bell Pottinger unethical and unprofessional. The agency is now banned for five years from PRCA.

According to The Guardian, the PRCA received a complaint from an opposition party in South Africa, where Bell Pottinger allegedly “sought to stir up anger about ‘white monopoly capital’ and the ‘economic apartheid’.”

Now, a month later, Richard Edelman, “the most famous person in PR, “ is speaking out.

Edelman speech at the National Press Club in D.C.

At the National Press Club in Washington D.C., the head of the “leading” global communications marketing firm challenged the PR industry to implement stronger ethical standards. However, when news about Bell Pottinger first emerged, Edelman initially believed this was not a crisis for the industry as a whole:

“There may be some who choose to try and do that to us, but actions speak louder than words. This is not a crisis for the whole industry.”

This week, Edelman changed his stance by proposing a four-part, fact-based compact for all PR professionals, nationally and globally. Through the compact, PR professionals must “insist on accuracy, demand transparency from clients, engage in the free and open exchange of ideas, and require all staffers to take a free universal ethics training course online,” (Barrett, 2017).

In addition to demanding transparency from clients, firms should take important, initial steps when choosing a client. “Not every client deserves representation in the court of public opinion,” Edelman said in a blog post two days ago.

Through the Harold Burson code of ethics, Burson-Marstellar takes its current clients’ and its staffs’ considerations in mind.

“If a potential client had issues that were so divisive they would upset these core stakeholders then Burson would decline the business – he cited either side of the abortion issue as an example. For him it was more a business decision than an ethical one,” (Barrett, 2017).

When choosing whether to represent clients, should PR firms and professionals make the decision based on ethical, personal or business reasons? Why?

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1 Response to Edelman Calls for Global PR Compact

  1. Lisa Travis says:

    Cecilya, this story is incredibly relevant – even a few weeks after the fact – sheerly because of the topic of ethical behavior in the media and the repercussions for poor ethical decisions. These themes are echoed in the media from the ethics of social media networks accepting misleading advertisements during the 2016 election to the unethical and often illegal behavior of men across the nation who are now feeling the repercussions of their sexual misconduct. This call-out of unethical behavior in the PR world, like in the other cases, breathes reassurance and new hope into the industry’s trustworthiness. The reminder that there are watchdogs monitoring agency ethics is reassuring for the future of the PR industry. Additionally, it’s also quite interesting to see PR agencies dealing with their own PR crises.

    To answer the questions you presented, I believe that PR firms have the right to and should vet potential clients for business, personal, and ethical alignment. Just like any small business, PR agencies should reserve their right to refuse service to customers – or in this case, clients. By taking on a client, an agency adds that client to their brand. PR is all about knowing the brand, reflecting their image, and increasing business awareness, so, if an agency takes on a client that agency assumes the public image of their client. And if that client acts unethically after the contracts are signed, it’s up to the agency’s discretion to either amend the situation or terminate the client to protect the agency’s reputation.

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