Trust and ethics in the world of media and communications


“There is no such thing as bad publicity”


The phrase has become almost comically associated with public relations, yet lately we have seen a more serious look at the ethics and accountability of media relations.


The consumer goods company and world’s second largest advertiser, Unilever, made headlines at the beginning of the year when it announced its warnings to internet giants Facebook and Google at the IAB Annual Leadership Meeting.


Unilever’s Chief Marketing Officer Keith Weed spoke on the divisive effect of such platforms where hateful and illegal content appears, further announcing that it would no longer advertise on sites which failed to have a “positive impact in society.” While moral concerns are likely not the only factor at play in Unilever’s decision, it does reflect the shifting tide towards more ethical and transparent media communications.


In the wake of data breaches, sexual harassment scandals, Fake News, cyber-attacks and more; the backlash is potent. British trust in the media fell to just 24% in 2017. Interestingly, The Financial Times has also stated that people are now more likely to trust their friends and family for news and truth rather than national institutions.


The importance of credibility for media consumers is becoming more obvious as the demands for transparent publicity and advertising grow stronger. The sheer volume of media outlets, and the freedom with which any individual can post and advertise content, has transformed the way public information is conveyed. There is an infinite range of publications, online sites and viewpoints to consider when accessing news. Still, one side effect of this is the propensity for misleading news and distorted facts.


With that in mind, it is necessary for brands to convey the right messages and demonstrate cultural and ethical sensitivity. This was evidenced last year in the Pepsi advert which featured Kendall Jenner passing a can of soda to an officer during a protest. Pepsi stated that the advert was intended to convey harmony and unity, however it was condemned for seeming to appropriate the struggles of social justice movements.


The PR Council gave its thoughts on the Pepsi advert, highlighting how the advice of PR professionals could have avoided the scandal, “PR professionals work to take a nuanced view of a brand’s audiences, and this is where our counsel is so critical".


PR is a vital tool for helping businesses understand their audience and stay conscious of the moral obligations in a digital era. The world is more interconnected and informed than ever before which casts greater responsibility on the media to promote faithful news.


PR may build the influence and brand power of a client, but it can also communicate a brand’s credibility. By putting truth and sensitivity at the core of its narratives, businesses can strengthen their public reputation at a time when trust is needed most.


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