PR, Ethics and The Law
By Tara Mulvany, Walsh PR
Earlier this month, John McManus in the Irish Times wrote an article called ‘Taking legal advice on what is just wrong is a sticky issue’ (Irish Times, 2nd April 2012).
The article referred to the recent High Court case when Seán Quinn’s nephew was asked about his family’s efforts to put assets beyond the reach of the former Anglo Irish Bank. Quinn’s nephew responded by saying that what the Quinn’s were doing in Russia was “wrong and unethical” – but it did not break the law.
McManus was highlighting the fact that Quinn’s nephew had drawn a distinction between ethics and the law and he was critical of the business argument that goes along the lines of “I had a legal opinion saying it was okay to do, so I did it.”
As a PR professional, I completely related to McManus’ view. I have, on a number of occasions found myself in a boardroom battle against the legal argument. What is ‘right’ in the dispassionate eyes of the law can very often end up being perceived as ‘very wrong’ outside the courtroom, particularly by the media and the general public.
My advice to businesses is always to look from the outside in and to ask yourself how others might view your actions, regardless of the legal advice. The damage done to reputation by taking the short-term commercially advantageous or ‘technically’ legal route is rarely worth it in the long term. You may get away with an unethical decision once, but you never know the day or the hour when your business will come under scrutiny and skeletons tend to have a habit of coming out of the closet.
What’s more, any company of merit must consider what standard of ethics they wish to espouse and what culture and behaviours they wish to adopt. There’s no point in valuing reputation after its gone and the media and public will show little sympathy for the excuse of ‘poor’ legal advice. And despite what many believe, no amount of PR can spin a business or an individual out of an obvious lie or mop up the aftermath of a shabby business decision. What often ends up being referred to as ‘a bad PR job’, usually started with a bad judgement being made in the first place.
Source: Walsh PR