Spin works. Negative campaigns work. We want to watch the train wrecks. We’re more interested in “conscious uncoupling
” than in what’s going on in North Korea or in Russia.
Of course PR has a perception issue. Virtually every industry has a perception issue. Wall Street has Bernie Madoff and Michael Milken. The oil industry has BP. Banking has Lehman Brothers. Attorneys and car salesmen are held up against the lowest of the low human beings.
The PR industry is seen as scummy and shady because of whisper campaigns
, media manipulation
, and unethical business practices.
I don’t know if we’ll ever win the good fight in my lifetime—and it certainly is a lofty vision—but there are some things we each can do to get us there.
1. Tell the truth.
A question I’ve heard recently: “How often are you asked to lie or do something unethical?” Today, I’d guess it happens only once a year. I can point to three times in our history when a client has asked us to lie on their behalf. Do not lie. Do not stretch the truth. Do not pretend to be someone you are not. Either clients and executives understand or they don’t. If they don’t, you should be working elsewhere.
2. Remember that astroturfing sucks.
More likely than not, sometime in your career (if you haven’t already done so), you are going to be asked to write positive reviews for a product or service you’ve never used or to create fake accounts to write reviews. Do not oblige. Not only is this unethical, but in some states, it’s illegal.
3. Work with ethical clients or organizations.
You are expanding your business or your career. You land your dream job or dream client. Then you start working and realize it’s not what you initially understood. It’s OK to stand up for yourself. You do, however, have to be ready to be fired.
4. Be open to criticism.
This one is so hard. None of us likes to be criticized. We don’t like to hear negative things about ourselves or our work, but if we are open to it—and truly listen—we can improve our products, our services, our business processes, our speaking, our writing, and more. Improve and grow.
5. Be human.
Last year, an employee was accused of plagiarism. I talked to her, and she promised me she hadn’t done it. I believed her. A few months later, additional information came to light that showed the employee hadn’t told me the truth. I could have left it at that and never said a word about it to anyone. Instead, I wrote a blog post and came clean
. I still feel awful about it and can feel my cheeks getting red as I write this. But I was human, and guess what. Humans make mistakes (as much as I hate that).
The list is probably a few hundred long, but I’m running out of time to get this published.
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Here is where we stand: Be ethical, be honest, be transparent, don’t hide anything, don’t sweep anything under the rug, and don’t spin.
If we all agree to behave this way, we will win the fight.
Gini Dietrich is founder and CEO of Arment Dietrich, Inc. and blogs at Spin Sucks, where a version of this article originally appeared.