Ethics: Dealing with the Awkward Client

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Anthony Olabode Ayodele (Chart.PR) is the CEO of ICP Media and a member of the CIPR Education and Skills Committee.

The contemporary PR Practitioner is constantly faced with a variety of challenges. Unfortunately, these could be presented in the form of a difficult client. Things don’t always turn out as expected and the person on the other side of the table, poising as your client, could well be your next major problem.

Recently, during a presentation on #AIinPR featuring a presentation by CIPR President, Emma Leech (titled Chips, Change and Challenges) the issue of the challenge Fake News presents to the profession and how to deal with it came up for mention.

My submission was the PR Practitioner must grasp that Fake News could be carried out by fraudsters poising as PR Clients seeking to have a piece of action the corporate world presents. They seek to manipulate and misrepresent true data. The PR Practitioner needs to be on the look-out for such and ensure the client he/she just got ‘into bed with’, so to say from a business perspective, isn’t actually up to something sinister!

This is where your reputation and judgement comes into play. You are not to assume the persona of the client just because he/she pays your bills. You have to maintain an image and personality of your own that reflects that of the organisation you set out to build/represent and of course, the profession you belong to!

Enter The Awkward Client?

The Awkward Client is one who wants you to bend the rules; to execute your job in a manner that contradicts to the dictates of your profession.

Some clients, like PR Practitioners, have heard that perception is reality. The problem is they come up with this whimsical idea that by manipulating perception via falsifying fake data you could make the latter appear as real.

Nothing could be further from the truth!

In dealing with such, Magnus Carter (FCIPR) trainer for Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR) argues that when a client wants to dwell on presenting 'make believe' stuff that could backfire, one needs to ‘present real-life examples and Case Studies’ to client that reflect how true value is vital to establishing the right perception.

The CIPR, in its Code of Conduct, comes in handy here. Especially, where the PR Practitioner is faced with the choice between operating ‘ethically and unethically'. Unfortunately, not all players in the business terrain, have imbibed ethical principles.

The issue with the client may not be fraud per ser. An unwillingness to divulge the truth, when and where required, is equally a problem!

The collapse of Enron, as Cater (quoted earlier) would explain and the Malaysian Airline crises - where a plane went missing in the air (as analysed by Raham Rapeir, writing for INC magazine on PR failures of 2014) - all turned out as PR mishaps because the PR Practitioner yielded to the will of the client to handle things differently from standard Best Practice.

Where there’s a conflict and the Practitioner sees the possibility of his profession being compromised there may be a need to flag up the matter and pushback. Or, if the need arises, to maintain the integrity of the profession and the professional, one might have to just ‘walk away’!

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