Should PRs have a moral obligation to help ethical businesses? This is a question I have found myself trying to answer for the last week or so.
Following my post ‘Primark Sweatshop PR Disaster’ there followed quite a stream of comments discussing the rights and wrongs of what Primark had done, and the PR implications following the TNS Knitwear-sweatshop scandal. One particular comment in particular hit a spectacularly pertinent note. Shauna Chapman of Quail By Mail, an ethical clothing company, made the point:
Every time Primark and the other sweatshop devils make a slip up it highlights proper ethical fashion. Emerging eco/ethical labels couldn’t afford this type of press otherwise as we’re not yet deserving–apparently.
And Shauna is so, so right. A small Internet startup, be it a clothes or computer games retailer, is always going to struggle to get noticed in the mainstream media when the larger high street brands have thousands of pounds to throw at advertising and PR, unless they are offering something truly unique.
Ethical clothing, or fairtrade companies for example, have an even tougher time because they are working with even smaller budgets and, until something drastic happens with shoppers’ characteristics, will not get the same amount of custom as their traditional competitors.
Should PR agencies then, have a moral obligation to help out these companies who are doing their bit to be as ethical as possible?
Perhaps the CIPR could discuss with its members the possibility of doing some voluntary work for companies that are without PR represnetation who are providing a service on a small scale. This could be someone such as Quail by Mail, or perhaps an infant fair trade t-shirt manufacturer. The PR agency could do 2 hours a week of basic media out reach, funded perhaps by the CIPR or a partner organisation.
Now, there are going to be a few PRs who will think “Why should I spend my time helping out a small unheard of client who’s not paying very well?”. Er, human nature? Your conscience? But no, seriously. If the CIPR were to instigate an accredited award, perhaps that would act as a measure of how ethical your PR agency really is, instead of having the token green client, it would add some credibility to the proposal.
Do individual PR professionals have a duty to take their directors and say, ‘look, why don’t we give something back?’. Even better, why not do it on your own community, perhaps offer a helping hand to a loical charity or club that needs some PR to raise funds.
What do you think PR can do to make itself more ethical in this sense? Can PR find the time to do something akin to what I’ve suggested? I’d really appreciate your thoughts!