December 22, 2016 Matthew Krieger

Everyday Ethics in Public Relations

Public relations is a results oriented industry, defined largely by a “what have you done for me lately?” approach. At GK, we are squarely focused on achieving the best results we can for our clients. However, we also care deeply about the process that goes into securing those results. As with any other part of life, our jobs are full of quandaries that present us with questions of morals and ethics. Here are two common examples and how we approach them:

Exclusivity and Selling Your “Sole”

When we agree to an exclusive with a reporter, it means we grant that reporter, and solely that reporter, access to details of a story. Only after the journalist publishes her or his story, do we reach out to additional reporters. The terms of an exclusivity agreement and the ethical issues surrounding it can confuse people outside of the industry, mostly because they are unfamiliar with the different methods of pitching an announcement.

We often pitch news under embargo one to two weeks in advance of the announcement date. In this case, we send the story to anyone we think might be interested in it, and everyone agrees not to publish anything until a specific time and date. Alternatively, we can pitch a live story, waiting until the release is live to conduct outreach. Additionally, there is the option of agreeing to an exclusive, wherein only one reporter has the right to publish the story. Only after his or her article is live are we able to reach out to anyone else. If we were to send the announcement to other reporters in the meantime, we would be violating the terms of the agreement, plain and simple. Theoretically, it might be possible to have your cake and eat it too – in other words, agree to an exclusive with one journalist, while also pitching additional journalists under embargo. Doing so might even increase coverage of the announcement, and we have seen it done. Unfortunately, that is also something that clients have asked us to do.

However, not only is this not how we choose to conduct business, but in the longer run, we believe that this type of fast and loose interpretation of classic journalistic practice will end up ruining relationships with journalists and make it difficult to work with them in the future.

Integrity is Integral

As alluded to above, we often work with clients who are not familiar with the processes involved in public relations, and for some we are the first PR firm with whom they have worked. With all of our clients, particularly those who are inexperienced with PR, we try to be as honest, transparent and informative as possible. Just as much as we own our success, we take ownership of our mistakes and correct them. Our goal in this process is to lift any curtain of mystery surrounding the work we are doing. Likewise, we do not promise the moon to our clients or potential clients. We are proud of the results we have achieved and they speak for themselves. But, at the end of the day, PR is earned media, meaning no PR firm can guarantee regular coverage in The New York Times, TechCrunch or any other publication. We can get there, but it is important to set expectations correctly and always aim to under-promise and over-deliver. If someone tells you otherwise, they are likely not telling the truth.

Operating with integrity also means distributing credible stories and information. We conduct our own independent research about our clients and the industries they are in, to ensure that we gain a firsthand understanding of their market and the need that they are fulfilling. Similarly, we ensure that the contributed articles our clients publish are based on accurate, current data. Our press releases and pitches are written with equal sincerity. Although some companies want to position themselves as producers of world-changing technology that will alter the face of an industry, such statements are often divorced from reality. Disseminating information based on false claims would be a disservice to the public, reporters, our clients and us. This approach brings the term “journalistic integrity” to mind. Unlike journalists, we are paid to increase our clients’ exposure. However, like journalists, it is our personal and professional duty to act as a filter for the truth, especially in an era of “fake news.”

Honesty is the Best Policy

Ethics aside, an honest method also yields better results. Conducting proper research and pitching stories and articles that are factual helps increase the standing of our clients in the eyes of the journalists we are in contact with, and also allows those journalists to do their jobs more accurately and effectively. This creates a win for everyone involved, which is exactly what we like doing.

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