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Ethics and Reputation Management

Written by: Denise Blackburn-Gay, APR, Fellow PRSA
Ethics Officer, South Carolina PRSA

The terms ethics and reputation management go hand in hand. Your agency’s reputation precedes you in every meeting, every event and every encounter you have with the public.

Your reputation is the basis for whether clients can trust you, and whether they want to do business with you. Let’s face it, trust is the most important factor in any relationship. Ethical standards are those values by which we choose to do business: truth, fairness, respect, and the list goes on. It is these standards, these values, that build trust and credibility

Many corporations and agencies have faced mistrust, often by their lack of sound judgement. Years ago, a fake blog known as “Walmarting Across America” came into the spotlight.  It featured the journey of a couple and their adventure from Las Vegas to Georgia.  They traveled in an RV and stayed in Walmart store parking lots.  While at the various Walmart locations, the couple interviewed employees about their jobs. Every Walmart employee interviewed, from executives to store clerks, loved their job.  Does this sound too good to be true?  It was.

So, what was the problem?  Not once, was the fact that this was a PR stunt, with paid bloggers, disclosed, anywhere. The blogs were being funded by “Working Families for Walmart,” a pseudo non-profit devised by a clever PR firm and funded by Walmart. The real purpose was to oppose union-funded groups which were critical of Walmart’s business practices.

Readers believed that the tour had no relation to Walmart and it was just two people who decided to blog about their journey.  Once the secret was out, this story blew up the PR world. It is unfortunate that the PR firm working with the company at the time did not realize that this same idea may have worked successfully if they had announced it as a public relations campaign. At least it would have had credibility. While we hear a lot about fake news, this incident took place nearly 13 years ago and today is a classic textbook example.

As agency owners, we owe it to our clients and to our ourselves to build business the right way—to build it on trust. As Einstein said, “Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters.”

Your reputation takes years to build and only a matter of seconds to lose. Keep trust at the forefront of everything you do. It will make a big difference in your life, your leadership and your success.

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