Ethics and Corporate Governance
Presented by Cheryl Procter-Rogers, A Step Ahead Public Relations, USA
All Africa Public Relations Association Conference
Mombasa, Kenya
November 23-26, 2011
Greetings and gratitude…
As leaders, we must create environments that epitomize the level of excellence we desire in the
workplace. And, through our leadership, champion ethics. We must create environments where
ethical dilemmas are faced with clearly defined moral standards that are practiced at all levels of the
organization. We must lead by example.
Every organization and individual will, at some point, face an ethical dilemma. Do you…
hire someone from your competitor because he promises to reveal confidential information?
market a product in your country that has been banned in the US?
release information, knowing that critical facts are being omitted?
The subject of ethics is not always clear. Situation ethics can present clear judgment dilemmas—
take the cases in the US of corporate bonuses for failing companies and arriving to Congressional
hearings on corporate jets. Sometimes, you may not realize you’ve been in an ethical dilemma until
all the drama begins. What about the friend who has tried to rationalize an unscrupulous act by
claiming it served some greater good?
Defining business ethics
As communicators, we are obliged to embrace a code of ethics that provides for:
Free Flow of information
Fair and Open Competition
Disclosure of Information (Honesty and Trust)
Safeguarding of Confidences
Revealing Conflicts of Interest
Enhancing the public relations profession by leading by example
Unfortunately, it is not enough to have good intentions. To fully embrace an ethical philosophy, one
must ask him/herself some tough questions when faced with moral or ethical challenges and realize
the consequences of an action or inaction.
The good news is… for the public relations profession, this is a case of preparation meeting
The Public Relations Society of America’s code of ethics was first established in the 1950s. Our code
is clear. Could we have done a better job of communicating the code to our members and the
profession at large? You bet.
The ethical issues our profession has faced in the media over the last several years provides us with
a unique opportunity to participate in this public debate and advocate for one of the fundamental
tenets of our existence as a profession, but most importantly, in the world.
As communicators we are challenged to be experts in the area of ethics and corporate governance
and to have the moral courage to insist that our employers, employees, vendors and clients just
simply, “Do the Right Thing.” Easier said than done! With so much uncertainty, where do we begin?
We can help the world better understand and appreciate the significant contributions ethical
businesses, government and nonprofits make to our world. The new normal for ethics will include
even more transparency and a greater role taken by government in business affairs. We will see
more regulation to protect the public. Some are not going to like that. Our role as communicators will
be needed more than ever. But, to be effective, we must also embrace diversity.
How can we be effective leaders if we are insensitive to the differences of others and fail to embrace
As the moral compass for our organizations and the public, we must create environments where
diversity is celebrated.
As leaders, we must be of the world, not disinterested bystanders only awakened when a crisis
comes along or demands are presented for diversity in our company, department or on our account
We must not be trapped by confirmation bias—only reading material, only attending events, only
joining organizations, only hiring employees that speak to our own backgrounds, experiences and
beliefs. It’s when we screen out information we might not agree with.
I speak often about the unintended consequence of confirmation bias on our society. The result can
only be more stereotypes and even less understanding of our differences. Thanks to the internet and
satellite radio, one can have their biases validated daily by self-selection.
With the proliferation of the media and information sources, how do we influence behavior when we
are victims of this bias trap ourselves?
If we don’t become aware of our own biases and make the necessary changes, we will find ourselves
without the relationships; resources and understanding needed to help our organizations and the
public navigate in this global marketplace.
We will be serving our nations as well as ourselves if we succeed in avoiding confirmation bias.
will create a world where diversity thrives.
How will you lead in this new environment of regulation? Will senior management and your clients
listen to your counsel? Of course they will, if you have credibility.
Building Credibility
To have credibility, we want to become experts in our specialty and/or industry.
provides a unique resource for keeping on top of trends and advances.
The internet
Whenever possible, work across the organization. Consider expanding your knowledge and expertise
beyond your core area (Human Resources, IT, Operations, Finance, Customer Service, etc.). Be
proactive about suggesting cost cutting strategies. Understand governance and its impact.
Understand how to help run the business or organization, not just provide PR counsel.
In Africa, regulation has become a major issue for the public relations professional. For the astute
public relations professional, regulation can be viewed as a reward, not a punishment. It actually
makes our jobs easier when there are clearly defined rules and a culture of ethical behavior. The
difficult task is to help those who haven’t fully embraced the new regulations to understand the longterm impact if they don’t adapt. To be able to speak the language of those we counsel, the public
relations professional must invest the time to thoroughly understand what constitutes good
governance and why. Here are a few examples of good governance for a country:
Strong government agencies, especially those responsible for economic policy, planning, financial
Strong trade agreements and a plan to promote trade and investment opportunities
Equitable taxation system that allows government to fund public services without creating barriers
to private sector development
Strong banking and financial markets
Established appropriate regulatory frameworks
Effective delivery of basic services (education, health, water and sanitation)
Become a student of regulation, offer best practices from other countries. Be the go-to person for
research and other resources.
In closing, the public relations professional and ethical leader advocates for transparent, two-way
communication. They insist that all decisions are made through open channels and consider all
points of view. They walk the talk and are committed to behaviors and values that align with the
greater good.
In essence, regulation, while not perfect, signals to the world that this industry has a significant impact
on the public trust and has a reputation to protect. And for this public relations professional, I would
accept the reward graciously, for now…
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