Ethics in public relations is seen by many as an oxymoron.
Often, the profession is more associated with spin and propaganda than honesty and integrity.
Many PR professionals find themselves in ethical dilemmas on a regular basis.
In terms of the food and drink industry, a PR professional could be faced with an ethical dilemma if they work for an alcohol company.
There are countless studies of the negative effects alcohol can have on your health.
If you know something is bad, surely it is unethical to encourage people to do it? Shouldn’t we be telling people to drink less rather than more?
Similarly, Edward Bernays, the forefather of modern PR, is known for his campaign encouraging women to smoke.
He teamed up with the smoking industry to overcome one of the biggest social taboos of the 1920s: women smoking in public.
In New York in 1929, Bernays staged the Easter Parade which featured female models holding lit Lucky Strike cigarettes, named “Torches of Freedom”.
After the event, more women were smoking than ever before.
From a PR perspective Bernays had achieved his objective; he had made cigarettes glamourous and in demand.
But from an ethical perspective, is it right to encourage people to do something that is bad for them?
Working for an alcohol company is a tricky one. Although it is completely legal and not inherently wrong, the negative effects are hard to ignore.
There are ways some companies are raising the profile of alcoholic brands, while maintaining the message to drink responsibly.
For example, a quick Google search for ‘alcohol PR companies’ led me to an agency called CASK Liquid Marketing.
On entering the website, the user must confirm they are of legal drinking age before they can go further.
Also, there are regulations for alcohol companies when it comes to social media engagement.
Alcohol brands must ‘age-gate’ their social media channels, meaning those who want to interact with the brand have to go through an age verification process first.
Often PR campaigns for drinks companies are glamourous and play to the social aspect of drinking.
For example, in Brazil Budweiser launched the Buddy Cup which allowed people to automatically ‘friend’ on Facebook simply by tapping their cups together.
Everyone likes the idea of something for free and last year Carlsberg did just that. They put up a billboard in Shoreditch which dispensed free beer and naturally everyone loved it.
But do any of the campaigns relate to the dangers of drinking?
The potential risks of alcohol are often overshadowed by its reputation for fun.
But as the consumption of alcohol is completely legal, it could be argued there is nothing wrong with promoting an alcohol company.
While the ethics could be questionable, as long as people are made aware of the effects of alcohol and drink responsibly, a drinks company has every right for PR as much as any other company.