School is coming to an end – sigh. And truthfully all I can hear in my head on constant repeat is a classic rendition of SCHOOL’S OUT FOR SUMMER… SCHOOL’S OUT FOREVER!! Thank you Alice Copper for giving me my latest theme song in life. However, with the end of school comes the most anticipated part of the program — INTERNSHIPS! Now I realize no one should get as excited as I clearly am (hence the capital letters) for slave driving for no money. Ok, fine. This will not satisfy my craving for shoes, but it will satisfy my thirst for knowledge.
At a recent interview I was asked to discuss my mandate on ethics in PR. For example, if I was against bottled water, would I be able to work on a bottled water account? Does hellllls yes count as an answer? I mean I am trying to secure the best internship possible. However, the reality is this – you have to give truthful answers in order to make it in this business, so here is the truth.
Ethics in business is difficult. Not because it is hard to be ethical, but rather it is hard to decipher what in fact is being ethical. Be true to you? True to your company? True to your credit card payment that is due Tuesday? Regardless, everyone has their own criteria for ethical standards. I may not believe in bottled water, yet you knock back a case per week. Who is to say who is right?
My answer was straight forward and along the same lines of ‘you get what you pay for’ – which is why my free sandals are currently destroying my feet even as I type. If you work for a company, you need to know their ethical practices. Especially when it comes to a PR agency, they represent numerous and diverse clients. If you would stand in front of a water bottling manufacturer locked to a bucket of water screaming for the madness to stop – you probably wouldn’t want to work for Evian’s PR agency (just a thought). Therefore, do your research. These people are paying you to be the bright, insightful, creative little ‘thinking outside the box’ PR practitioner that you are – start being one. “Ummm, I didn’t know that I would have to work on a bottled water account..,” doesn’t fly very well.
If you have done all your research (pause for pat on the back here) then you are all set!! Right? Wrong! You may still be asked to work on a brand new account that you do not agree with. Now I was asked this very question. Right or wrong, to each their own, I decided that sometimes you need to put your organization’s needs ahead of your own. Unless they are representing something deemed socially unethical, suck up your pride and work with the bottled water company. There is a market for them, their business is needed by the thousands if not millions of consumers that purchase their products, so look at it as a learning experience. Provide key messages to an audience you don’t, or wish to not, belong to. Won’t this come across as a determined go-getter to your boss!
Ethics is touchy, and frankly I did not think I would be asked about my ethical practices in my internship interview. But I am glad I was. It made me start thinking about who I could and could not work for. Not only that, but it made me realize that you do have a choice. Before stepping out into the work force, breaking free from student-hood, there needs to be a discussion you have with yourself (possibly over a good glass of vino) that allows you to establish your own ethical practices. From there, finding an agency that matches up will allow you to keep your ethical practices in check.
Leave room for flexibility, after all being the ethical police isn’t your job – communicating messages effectively is.