4 Tips for Ethical Marketing

Why is Ethical Marketing needed?  As a firm that specializes in media relations and crisis communication, the team here at Chemistry PR & Multimedia helps clients deal with ethical issues on a regular basis. In many cases, we are called on when an alleged wrongdoing needs to be publicly addressed or when a company expects that an action that they’re about to take will land them in hot water with some of their audience. If you work in marketing or public relations, you’ve probably had to deal with similar challenges for your employer or client. Even when potential wrongdoing surrounds you, it is imperative to do your job in an ethical manner. We have taken some valuable lessons and experience from our years of crisis management and from the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)’s Code of Ethics to help ensure you are engaging in ethical marketing and communications.

What are Ethics?Ethical Marketing

First, the basics. What are ethics? Simply stated, ethics are a set of values that help guide the way a person acts or behaves, usually in a professional setting. Most professional membership organizations ­­– whether they serve physicians, fundraisers, or marketers – have a code of ethics that helps guide practitioners in the field in determining what constitutes right and wrong.

Ethics is especially important for marketers and communicators because, let’s face it, our fields already sometimes get a bad rap! We’re the hype masters and spin doctors who will say just about anything to make our company or clients look good to the public.

Balancing Loyalty and Independence

The PRSA Code of Ethics lists 6 values that members are expected to uphold. Two of these are loyalty and independence. This is where practicing ethics can get a bit tricky for those of us in marketing and communication.

Whether an employee or a contracted consultant, the company you represent is going to expect a certain amount of loyalty from you. After all, they are paying your salary! But as a professional, ethical marketer or communicator, you can’t afford to simply be a “yes-man” or -woman who goes along with whatever the CEO wants. Remember, your allegiance is to the company, but your obligations are to the public.

So, what does this mean in practical terms? How do we as professionals ensure that we personally, and by our extension, our companies and clients are engaging in ethical marketing? Let’s take a closer look at some of the key principles outlined in the PRSA Code of Ethics.

1.    Free Flow of Information

This principle promotes accurate and honest communication to preserve the integrity of relationships, particularly between the media, public and government officials. It also addresses the issue of “maintaining the flow of unprejudiced information when giving or receiving gifts.” One look at recent headlines makes the importance of this principle clear as we continue to see stories about undisclosed gifts to Supreme Court justices and payments to family members of presidents.

2.    Disclosure of Information

Those headlines lead us directly to another of PRSA’s ethical principles.  As an ethical marketer, you are expected to build public trust with open communication. Take the time to investigate and fact check any information you intend to release. Quickly act to ensure accuracy and quickly correct any inaccuracies that have slipped out.

Avoid deception by revealing who your company sponsors are. Disclose any financial interests that could be construed as influencing what and how you communicate. A simple but good example of this principle in practice is when The Washington Post covers a story that mentions Amazon and discloses that the paper is also owned by Jeff Bezos.

3.    Conflicts of Interest

Ethical marketing, then, means that conflicts of interest do not exist. Or if something could be interpreted as such, it is disclosed openly, honestly, and – most importantly – up front!

For individuals who consult and work with more than one company, this principle is of particular concern. These days, it’s common for consultants and freelancers to specialize in working with certain industries or niches. But that can also set practitioners up for conflicts of interest if they represent two firms who compete directly against one another.

4.    Safeguarding Confidences

Remember we said ethical marketers walk a fine line between loyalty to a company or client and serving the public. Here is where ethics often comes into play. If we as communicators are promoting open communication, how close to the vest should we keep things?

A good guideline is whether the information you possess could cause harm. Sharing proprietary or confidential information from a company when you change jobs or gain a new client who is (or could be) a competitor is frowned upon. But if the company you represent is doing something that, for example, is known to cause active harm to its customers, your ethics should guide you to act according to your obligations to serve the public.

Bottom Line to Ethical Marketing

The bottom line is you can feel confident that you are engaging in ethical marketing if you are transparent, open, and honest in your communications and if your actions serve the public and don’t violate their trust.

You can also take pride in your profession. Your ethical marketing is helping to build continued trust and goodwill between your company and the public. As we continue to see businesses, nonprofits, and government officials navigate the fallout from poor ethical decisions, you can rest easy knowing that your own work is mitigating the fallout your clients may face, is helping boost your company’s bottom line and bolster success for both.

Chris KubanChris Kuban started Chemistry PR and Multimedia with a vision to effectively formulate corporate and non-profit brands across the country. He is an expert in Media Relations, Event Management and video production. Working with a team of local and national suppliers, vendors, employees, and consultants has allowed him to coordinate more than 246 national events that help deliver the ROI his clients seek. Follow him on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn. Chris is proud that his firm is ranked one of the Best St. Louis Public Relations Firms in the region.