Rude Awakening

by Roger Pynn

I try not to judge a book by the cover, but I have to admit that I’m quick to draw conclusions by how much interest people have in ethics … especially how much emphasis a professional places on ethics in his or her line of work.

Over the years, I’ve focused a lot of time on ethics in public relations, committed time to our professional societies’ ethics programs, talked to student and professional groups on the topic and spent a good bit of time studying and collecting codes of ethics from various professional associations.

So when a friend asked if I would adapt the talk I deliver to PR groups for a breakout session when his industry trade association meeting held its North American meeting in Orlando, I said “Sure.  Be glad to.”  It gave me a chance to study yet another organization’s code, I’d be doing him a favor and I’d get to pontificate on how important I think it is to be true to basic beliefs you find in virtually all codes of ethics:  honesty and integrity, public service, defense of the public interest, fairness to competitors, etc.

When I got there I was surprised to see seating for as many as perhaps 200, even though I knew the entire conference was only a few hundred people … and he had told me it would likely be 20 or 30 people in the room.

It was even more surprising when it turned out to be five, plus the association board member who’d drawn the short straw and was assigned to introduce my session.  Now I’m not shooting at the trade group here and won’t name them.  But it told me something and I hope it said something to the association leaders in the room.

In fact, it seemed that at least three in the room were board members (although one was a past president who was giving a talk right after mine so she was perhaps there more for convenience than direct interest in the subject).  The good news is that four of the five were very engaged on the topic and knew their association’s code very well.

But you have to wonder about the rest.  Maybe the other topics of the day were far sexier than mine, I thought … but when I looked at the other topics (loss prevention, search engine optimization, surviving an audit, etc.) it wasn’t like I was competing with a George Clooney autograph session.

So why do I write this?  Not to complain, nor to embarrass myself for being the worst attended session, but rather as a reminder that if you’re a professional you ought to make your code of ethics and your commitment to it a point of pride and a marketing asset.  Your clients will not only respect you, you may just find you’ll be singled out by prospects looking for someone they know they can trust.

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