Red Hot Thoughts | Ethical PR is it possible?

Ethical PR: Is it possible?

As any PR pro will tell you, seeing a PR campaign through from start to finish is a labour of love. Time and attention go into making sure it’s the best and most successful campaign it can be, and that as many people see it as possible.

But we can also admit it is a vanity metric; getting your work and your client’s name on a well-known media or news site is a rush. We are pushing content and messages out through the media, reaching hundreds and thousands of eyeballs.

So, I think it’s our responsibility to make sure the messages we’re putting out there are correct and ethical. But this could go even further, and we should be thinking about the media we target with our campaigns.

Media behaviour

For me personally, this all stems from Caroline Flack. She was repeatedly targeted and bullied by the national press until she tragically took her life in February last year. Unfortunately, this wasn’t the first or last time something like this happened.

Time and time again we see publications bully and berate public figures, often with sexist and racist messaging. And if that wasn’t enough, these same publications feature scaremongering and factually incorrect headlines just to get clicks and readers to their site. We have seen this recently with the treatment of Meghan Markle in the media, and the national Covid-19 headlines.

So why do we as PR’s strive to be featured on these very same publications? Is it that much of a ‘win’ to get coverage on a site that churns out 100s of articles a day? It could be said that we are ‘feeding the beast’ by providing them with our campaigns, creatives and content – but is it possible to do PR successfully if we boycott these publications?

Client needs

To build a solid PR strategy, we need to understand the client’s audience. This involves identifying interests, online behaviours and, most importantly, where they consume their content online. That means that to make the most impact with our PR campaign, it means getting coverage on media sites that are popular with the target audience. You can read more about this here. It might be that some of the identified media could be the very publications we wish to avoid.

The client’s wishes are also a big part of the picture. The client may want to be featured on certain publications due to the vanity metric, and also because their competitors may have been featured on there too, so your client wants in on the action.

It’s a fine line to walk. Does morality have to be sacrificed to gain coverage? In my opinion – no.

How can it be done?

  • Consciously think about target publications -Think about the publications you or your client wishes to be featured on and do your homework. Looking at the recent articles a particular journalist at a publication has written goes a long way in revealing how ethical or moral their writing is and is that something you want to be aligned with your client’s brand?
  • NO scaremongering​! – When setting out on a PR campaign, ask yourself ‘is this useful, insightful, and positive’. If not, then maybe rethink. There is so much content out there that purely serves a clickbait function, don’t let your campaign add to the noise.
  • Think about the audience and not just the headline – Planning out the type of headlines you want when starting your campaign isn’t a bad thing, especially if you are analysing data from a commissioned survey. It helps focus your intent and message. However, be mindful to not have your blinders on and only think about the headline. Keep in mind who your audience is and why they would be interested in your content. Remember, no scaremongering!
  • Ask why – By asking your client why they want to be featured on a particular site can be very telling, and it can help inform your outreach strategy. This could also potentially help identify alternative publications that might have the same high authority but have better journalist integrity. It also doesn’t hurt that vanity metric!
  • Diversify your PR strategy – Don’t purely rely on outreach to amplify your creative content. Using paid social and display advertising means we can capture our target audience’s attention and drive traffic to our campaign landing page. Using different social channels depending on your desired audience, we can measure social reach too (which is a great secondary vanity metric!)

It may not be possible to completely boycott certain publications, especially when coverage can be picked up organically, but it is possible to control the narrative and intent by thinking about the above.

You can sleep easy knowing you have done everything in your control to be as consciously ethical and as moral as possible, just as we do at Red Hot Penny!


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