Bay Area PR firm Bospar partnered with market researcher Propeller Insights to survey people’s opinions of the news media, public relations and marketing. You can find full results here. Some highlights:
- 95% of respondents said they were troubled by the current state of the media.
- 67% fear things will be worse during the 2020 election cycle.
- 42% believe ethics in PR and marketing are worse than in the past.
Interestingly, respondents’ opinions on ethics in PR and among news media were almost precisely the same. Bospar Principal Curtis Sparrer suggested that’s because the public sees the two as increasingly intertwined.
Not sure my journalist friends would agree, and even I’m not ready to suggest we’re “intertwined.” But our two professions do interact more than ever, whether over the phone, over email, or over news events. This relationship requires the PR profession to make sure it operates with the highest ethical standards.
I’ve said this many times: The Fourth Estate is vital to the health and future of our society. Those who applaud the demise of yet another newspaper or media outlet are celebrating the decline of truth, transparency and our nation’s wellbeing. Yet newsrooms are shrinking, and journalists are struggling to do more with less. I think that’s a place where ethical PR pros can step up to provide trustworthy, meaningful and relevant content.
That requires us to understand what today’s journalist needs. It requires us to know the audience that a media outlet serves, and not to try the useless—and ultimately self-destructive—work of force-feeding irrelevant or unwelcome content to journalists. It requires us to reflect on the content we have to offer to make sure it connects and aligns.
Many times I’ve told clients who wanted a tepid story placed or ho-hum event highlighted that it wasn’t the right fit. If I’m lucky, I can find a connection that’s relevant to the audience. Sometimes, I simply have to say “no.”
Some would suggest that’s letting a client down. I say it’s doing PR from a place of truth, ethics and relevance. And it’s helping the client understand what matters to the audience and how they can connect with them better.
The Bospar survey found 86% of people expect PR and marketing to operating ethically. I think that ought to be 100%. And when half that many say we aren’t doing it right, we need to do much more than heave a sad sigh. We must do better—and we can start by embracing our role as trustworthy, ethical, relevant resources for journalists as well as for our clients.
September is designated by the Public Relations Society of America as Ethics Month. See PRSA’s Code of Ethics here.