Global PR Agency Leaders Reveal Perceptions of Ethical PR Slipping
Author: Mary Beth West
Across the global public relations industry’s worldwide landscape for ethical practice excellence, is the North American market losing its edge as the world’s regional front-runner, amid a larger global decline?
Recent PR-agency industry global survey data comparisons appear to indicate so.
The International Communications Consultancy Organisation (ICCO) – the global voice of the public relations and communications industry, with a network of 41 associations, representing PR and communications agencies in 70 countries – recently released its 2020-2021 World PR Report, including respondents’ level-of-agreement assessment with this specific statement:
“The PR industry operates ethically.”
Respondents were asked to indicate their level of agreement with this statement on a scale of 1 to 10, where 1 = Strong Disagreement and 10 = Strong Agreement (the higher a region’s numeric score, the more the PR industry is perceived to operate ethically by those agency leaders based within that region).
The ICCO survey – conducted in partnership with OPINIUM – compiled responses per each survey respondent’s regional base of operations, yielding the following 2020 regional scores, with Western Europe achieving the highest “agreement” index to the ethics question at a score of 7.5 (up from 7.2 in 2019 – the only region of the world to improve its score from 2019), with North America ranking second, at 7.0 (down from 7.4 in 2019 – and losing its No. 1 regional placement score worldwide from 2019).
In comparison, ICCO’s PR ethics ranking chart released a year ago in autumn 2019 revealed the following rankings:
“With due consideration to the positive score reflected by colleagues in Western Europe, our ICCO World PR Report 2020-2021 should serve as a wake-up call for the global PR industry, given these sobering year-over-year comparisons,” said ICCO President Nitin Mantri, of the Public Relations Consultants Association of India.
“As our team looks ahead to 2021, we will redouble efforts to work collaboratively across the global industry to bring awareness, meaningful dialogue and – most importantly – ethical compliance commitments to the fore,” Mantri said.
“Our recent ICCO Global Summit focused on many of the core ethics issues at hand for our industry,” said ICCO Ethics Chair Christina Forsgård. “As the pandemic has taken its toll on the world, we must bring even more renewed energy to the task of action-over-talk.”
Mary Beth West – a U.S.-based ICCO board member, co-chair of the Public Relations and Communications Association (PRCA) Ethics Council and member of the Washington, D.C.-based Ethics & Compliance Initiative (ECI) – wrote the ICCO World Report’s North American analysis with reference to the pandemic’s impact on ethical compliance, writ large.
“ECI’s own Global Business Ethics Survey across 18 countries recently documented that ‘employees working in organizations with four to seven significant changes in 12 months were two times as likely to say they observed misconduct than employees working in an organization without any significant changes’,” West said.
“Coupled with the ECI insights, what our global PR leaders have seen in 2020 – with pandemic-imposed mega-crisis, sea-change, and wholesale industry disruption for our clients – suggest that the pandemic is indeed a likely driving force behind these lower ICCO-reported PR industry ethics scores worldwide,” West said. “Of course, here in the U.S., we’ve also grappled for 20 years with having no PR trade association based here with a compliance-mandated ethics code to motivate actual follow-through with ethics lip-service. The time is now for a more serious PR-ethics-compliance industry mandate and self-regulation.”
When asked, “Which of the following do you think are currently the biggest ethical challenges for PR professionals and agencies?” North American respondents to the ICCO survey indicated, in rank order:
1. Pressure from clients
2. Balancing agency income, growth with considerations around ethical behaviour and clients
3. Lack of consequences for agencies that do not behave ethically
To get involved with ICCO’s #PowerOfEthics program, visit iccopr.com/ethics.