Too much doing, not enough being—a prevalent theme amidst the modern state of PR ethics.
The chance for companies and practitioners to thrive alone on carefully crafted notions of what they think publics want to hear has never been more viable. Within the ever-growing online age, content is king and image everything, so how does responsibility fit into the grand mix?
Ethical facades put integrity at odds. Sounding honorable is great although can only last so long without application to back it up. As professional promises to perform in self-proclaimed “ethical” manners seem to plague the industry airwaves, it should always boil down whether they follow through.
“Doing” entails talk, where “being” is action; however, red flags arise when the first so often overpowers the latter.
When brands use new and traditional media to boast their own ethical standards and/or agenda, fishy feelings can’t help but emerge. Those who do presumably set themselves up for failure, said Brian Ahearne, director at London-based Parker, Wayne & Kent PR agency.
It’s critical to remain cautious of the “name game.” While certain buzzwords (like “ethical”) can be a plus for niche consumers, it can just as easily turn off publics at large. If you have to so extensively call yourself something, how much so really are you?
Actions are what count, according to Giles Gibbons, co-founder of communications firm Good Business. “Too many brands are trying to get the green or ethical label, rather than genuinely being a good business,” he said to The Guardian.
However, in the sea of “be” there are those who “do.” One case in point: Lush cosmetics.
The UK-based cosmetic retailer is known for its all-natural, socially conscious beauty products and ethical practices. Since its founding in 1994, Lush has promoted animal welfare, human rights and environmental conservation through mindful means of production and unique marketing communication.
That said, the CSR-rich beauty brand touches on consequentialist themes of Utilitarianism. ‘The greatest good for the greatest number’—Lush’s practical application of values benefit not only its first-hand users, but animals, the environment and business partners around the world.
The company uses fresh, far healthier ingredients; abides by ethical supplying standards regarding how purchased ingredients affect the communities from which they come; oppose animal testing; and minimize unnecessary packaging. Beyond the countless publics clearly benefitting from the operation, those not patronizing Lush remained unharmed and arguably still benefit from the long-term social good.
While no brand is perfect, Lush deservingly takes pride in its ethical standards and does thoroughly right by direct as well as indirect publics.
Cliche as it is, with great power does come great responsibility. PR professionals ideally operate with goodwill upon the client’s as well as public’s behalves. Many say they strive for genuine, communicative symmetry, but in the end one-sidedness too often wins out, as it provides more instantaneous gratification.
Transparency is key, and leading by example remains the best remedy. The only way to change ethical application within PR’s landscape is to act, then hope others feel inclined to follow suit.