There is an old dictum most professionals in the service industry live by: “The client is always right.”
Public relations, or PR, is certainly one of those trades in which earning the trust, respect and loyalty of clients is paramount to success. Having served in the communications trade for two decades, and with nearly 10 years of experience leading the regional consultancy I founded and a few years at other agencies, I am all too familiar with the pressures of keeping up with KPIs, impressing clients with positive publicity and maintaining good relationships with marketing teams. In the world we live in, customer experience is king. And in a consultancy model, it’s key to ensure high levels of client satisfaction.
In any customer-driven business, one single complaint can break a deal. But if your integrity is on the line, should consultants still adopt a customer-first mentality — no matter what?
When brands face a crisis, it’s tempting to sugarcoat the truth, to omit important details and to share only what is seen as opportune. Most brands don’t want to risk being too vulnerable in the face of a crisis, which can expose cracks that affect brand value. Covering up a crisis, however, only makes things worse. Companies will need to face the public eventually, when the edifice of lies crumbles.
In today’s world, where anyone can shape at least visual identities with the help of beauty filters and photoshop, it’s far too easy to hide behind a mask of pretense. Vanity sells, and for brands aiming to win the loyalty battle, it may at times be tempting to exaggerate and paint an overly rosy picture to look more attractive.
As PR professionals, we do have the duty to safeguard our clients’ reputations. But we also have the moral responsibility of sharing accurate information with the wider community. It is a delicate balance between serving a client’s interests, while being transparent with the public.
When confronted with a selfish client who is nourishing unethical ideas, PR professionals should always follow their moral compass and counsel clients to do the same. It’s not always an easy path, and it does take a lot of courage to stand up for what’s right. After all, we might upset clients and even run the risk of losing them in the process. But as in any partnership, it is important to be aligned — even more so when it’s a matter of values and when our integrity as PR professionals is at stake. When a partnership compromises our own values, we must have the strength to walk away.
The truth is, ethics should be the cornerstone of any communications strategy. Given the power to influence perceptions and shape society as a whole, PR consultants should be conscious of the narratives they weave, the causes they champion, the brands they represent and, of course, how they conduct themselves as professionals. As today’s communications landscape becomes denser and more complex, I am seeing more associations — such as PRCA, where I serve as a board member — dedicating themselves to promulgating standards in PR and guiding practitioners on best practices to better navigate ethical quandaries.
As an industry oftentimes met with derision for allegedly breeding spinmeisters and silver tongues, public relations needs to evolve as a profession and forge a new, stronger identity. As PR professionals, we need to be at the heart of this change by upholding the values of honesty and integrity. It’s the only way to be credible and earn the trust and respect of the public — not only for our clients, but first and foremost for our own trade!
This article is written by Lars Voedisch, Managing Director and Founder, PRecious Communications. It originally appeared in Forbes on 23 November 2021, with slight modifications.
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