Are you proud of the industry you’re in? I really hope so. Life is too short not to be. We all have a crazed moment of hating and sounding off about certain professions, and generalising a group of professionals or workers as @%?£!’s as (add your preferred assortment of expletives, all insulting).

Last Saturday at 10.42 precisely, I hated parking wardens, when given a parking ticket as we loaded my car with old IT equipment ready to be carted off to our local recycling centre – I was trying to be a good citizen. What I said about parking wardens in my following 20+ rants is definitely not repeatable on the internet. And similar rants are given about estate agents, tax inspectors, call centre operators, bailiffs and the list goes on. I suspect we all find our ‘Victor Meldrew’ side from time to time.

And of course, people love to hate PR professionals because they think we lie and don’t speak openly and truthfully. We are lumped together as ‘Spin Doctors’ and probably given a few other unpleasant names as well. The disgust and distaste is one of mistrust, as “spin” often implies disingenuous, deceptive and/or highly manipulative tactics.

The good news is that PR people have fallen down the list of most hated professions but there is still plenty of work to do, continuously.

It’s personal. It is down to everyone working in the PR industry to understand that your reputation and the responsibility you carry is built on a strong ethical foundation. When was the last time you read the PRCA or the CIPR code of conduct?  How ethical are you?

Do you confuse ethics with morals? Both relate to right and wrong. But morals are your own principles as to what is right or wrong, whereas ethics is adhereing to your professional code of conduct.

Why does our industry have a code of conduct? It’s because…

There are some perceived grey areas, such as transparency. When is it imperative to say all of the truth, some of the truth or none of the truth? When is it imperative to maintain confidentiality?

The PRCA Code says “A member firm has a positive duty to observe the highest standards in the practice of public relations. Furthermore, a member has the responsibility at all times to deal fairly and honestly with clients, past and present, fellow members and professionals, suppliers, intermediaries, the media of communication, employees and above all else, the public.”

I’ve highlighted the keywords to remember. Any PR professional must be mindful of giving the right advice to any client and not falling into the spin trap of deception and manipulation.

I’ve given lectures on Ethics for the CIPR, I’ve debated at the House of Commons on the subject of Ethics on behalf of the CIPR and I regularly run an Ethics webinar for the PRCA.

My tops tips for being an ethical PR professional are as follows:

  1. Trust your instincts for what seems right, or what seems wrong. Use your common sense
  2. Remember those key words from the overall principle: highest standards…deal fairly and honestly…above all else, the public
  3. Know your code of conduct. Re-read it every six to 12 months or so and be sure you understand it
  4. Ensure your team or your agency or your department is aware of the code. Challenge the team with dilemmas; great for team building and mutual understanding
  5. Challenge yourself: Come on my webinar and see how you fare with a wide variety of ethical dilemmas that are set out in front of you…

For more information about my PRCA course please read

This week, I was fortunate to pick up the PR Personality of the Year accolade at the PRCA Awards. The award was ultimately decided by public vote, following a PRCA shortlist (how I feel for those X-factor and Strictly celebs), so a huge thank you to all those industry colleagues and peers who kindly supported me.

Winning this award brought back memories and highlighted contrasts within the public relations industry from another highly memorable PRCA Awards ceremony. A decade ago, I picked up a similar award – for best ‘old’ PR professional at a PRCA event on September 11th 2001. Soon after collecting my award, at about 2pm, chaos began to erupt. Some “geeky” PR folk (largely tech PRs, ahead of the personal technology curve, as ever) were getting texts about the events unfolding in New York. News got around verbally, in the main; the awards ceremony concluded early and the room emptied fast.

It is incredible to remember that – just 10 years ago – texting was geeky and a relatively new phenomenon. By contrast, at this week’s PRCA Awards, everyone was texting and being tweet-tastic, with smartphones littered on every table. For these PRCA Awards alone, there were over 5,000 tweets including a live commentary on the night.

Going back to the 11th September 2001, we were glued to our monitors in disbelief, watching the repeats of the falling towers on CNN over the internet. It was the first time many people had watched video news over the internet. Bandwidth crashed and PCs froze under the strain.

What a contrast to today’s world, where we film, edit and upload videos for our clients (and ourselves) without hesitation, and anyone can develop and build his/her own video content channel.

And how the PRCA Awards have changed! In 2001, the ‘PRCA Frontline Awards’ was a relatively modest event – perhaps 300 attendees, mainly for frontline executives (the under-30s); definitely agency-only, no celebrity presenters, culminating in a few drinks and a light lunch buffet. By contrast, this week there were 900 PR industry people dressed up to the nines, at all job levels, in-house as well as agency, partying the night away at the London Hilton.

The champagne flowed freely on the night, although we are in a very different economic climate, and it seems the desire for gongs, recognition, celebration and a rip-roaring night out is as strong as ever. There were tables in the aisles and walk ways — it was packed. The ticket applications were over-subscribed with 100 people were on a waiting list, many of them short-listed entrants.

Personally, I don’t see the hunger for awards changing for a very long while, so the PRCA should book a bigger venue for next year.

Do you judge agencies by the awards they win? And if you don’t enter, or don’t rate industry awards, why not?

I am delighted but somewhat surprised to be the only woman (out of a shortlist of five) nominated as PRCA PR Personality of Year. According to the UK’s PR Week/PRCA census, the industry is two-thirds female (20,000 women in total work in PR). Over the years it’s always amazed me to see how many men attend the PR awards ceremonies; where do they hide during the day?

My gender throughout my career has been more of an advantage than a disadvantage. I howl with laughter at the letters addressed to Mr. Clive Walker. Do I look like a ‘Clive’? A greater hindrance is a surname starting with a ‘W’. Name lists that go in alphabetical order by surname are not my friend.

PR is a career choice I have never ever regretted. Only this week, with one of our clients trending globally on Twitter from a campaign we conceived and ran, the rush of adrenaline, the buzz and the excitement was as fresh as it felt on my first day as a junior PR exec in 1985.

I founded Firefly 23 years ago, in my mid-20s. Aside from delighting my clients, I had two crucial personal motivations:
1. Family: I wouldn’t have to negotiate with anyone over my own maternity cover (an unnecessary thought for the next seven years, as it happened) and I would fully support my colleagues in their balance of work and family life.
2. Learning: I would put myself on courses to develop my own potential, and I would ensure that all my colleagues would have the same opportunities of continual training and development throughout their career with Firefly. Talented people, high performers.

These motivations and beliefs are still at the crux of Firefly’s culture today.

Here are my 25-year PR career highlights in 10 points:

1. Founded Firefly Communications – 1988
2. Runner-up for PR Week Best New Consultancy – 1989 and 1990
3. First PR agency to be an Investor in People – 1991
4. Launched the first UK internet press centre – 1999
5. Joined the PRCA Board of Management – 1999 to-date
6. Won PR Week Consultancy of the Year – 2000
7. Named Best Old PR Professional – 2000
8. Became Chair of the Professional Practices Committee (Ethics) – 2002 to-date
9. Listed in The Sunday Times Small Companies Best Places to Work – 2003-2007 (highest rank achieved: no. 3)
10. Nominated for the PRCA PR Personality of the Year – 2011

Over a 25-year agency career, my lows of being a woman in PR are:

1. The late night taxi ride with a client who thought my role and responsibilities on his account also stretched to nocturnal activities.
2. Being mistaken by a hotel concierge for an altogether different kind of ‘PRO’. Note to all PR professionals: be aware of how a series of male visitors to a hotel suite may appear to the outside world (not everyone knows they are journalists and that your spokesperson sits behind that door).
3. At the age of 48 – by then a wife, mother of three, and having run my own agency for over 23 years – being introduced by one client to another client as, ‘Claire, our PR girl’. Grrr!

Nowadays, women are (or should be) so much better protected by their employers, and respected by their colleagues and clients. With nearly 50% of the PR industry aged between 25 and 34, and 60% of this age range female, a big challenge is still juggling a career with family commitments. I have seen and heard of too many talented women PRs give up on their careers post-maternity. It should not be difficult to find a way for women to find a balance and have it all. We have a shrinking talent pool – and a growing industry. We have to find ways to support and keep people.

Being nominated has prompted the LinkedIn posts you will see below, and I hope the discussions about preserving our evaporating talent pool gives employers a few ideas to think about, and our shrinking talent pool more reasons to stay in PR.

Comment on my discussion in the Network of PR professionals group in LinkedIn
Keep Mums. I’ve seen too much PR hot talent (Mums2b or Mums) leaving our industry. Our talent pool is shrinking. Got any tips for how to ‘have it all’?

Comment on my discussion in the PR Professionals group on LinkedIn
Stay or go? The economy and rapid technological changes have caused many people to flee our profession. How can we keep our (shrinking) talent pool?

Of course, I hope that the hundreds of current and ex-Fireflies, current and ex-Firefly clients, and the many thousands of people I’ve lectured or trained over the years, will vote for me; but if you like what I believe in and stand for, then please vote for me as the UK’s PRCA Personality of The Year. And like all good PR deadlines, you’ve not got long – just until Monday 14th November. Here’s the link.

Thank you.

Interesting reading in today’s FT on new bribery legislation that could affect the corporate hospitality industry and have a knock-on effect for the PR industry.

The implications are less about offering an afternoon out at a premiership game or indulgences at Ascot, but  more about ‘grand hospitality’ events that could come under scrutiny – especially trips abroad.

We’ve flown journalists all over the world to visit client HQs or attend events, conferences and shows – perhaps with a sporting or arts event thrown in for entertainment. Of course, there is never a guarantee that any media on a trip will write about the client who has funded it, but there is an expectation that the media should consider writing about the paying client, especially if an interesting and relevant angle is revealed.

We need to be mindful of the new legislation so we don’t fall foul, but the guidance is not available yet.

Those PRCA agencies with a desire to get their thoughts in order should also heed point 2.7 of the PRCA Code of Conduct:

“Neither propose nor undertake any action which would constitute an improper influence on organs of government, or on legislation, or on the media of communication.”

Is it time to shape your reputation?

We operate in London, Paris and Munich, and have a network of like-minded partners across the globe.

Get in touch

Sign up to Spark, our newsletter

Receive thought pieces from our leadership team, views on the news, tool of the month and light relief for comms folk

You can unsubscribe at any time, please read our privacy policy for more information