A couple of days ago, Shel Holtz offered a modest proposal for increasing transparency in PR practice, with the goal of encouraging ethical PR. I will let you read the post and comments that followed, which are the seeds of a good discussion. In short, however, here is his idea:
Companies or agencies engaged in a PR or marketing effort should create a page that outlines the elements of the assignment. The page would include the goal, objectives, strategies and tactics. Objectives should include any metrics the project is designed to achieve. Each tactic would include the specifics about approaches taken. For example, if blogger outreach is one tactic, the outline would cover the steps taken, from how bloggers are identified to how they are contacted.
The biggest objection so far in the comments is that this amounts to giving away corporate secrets. I would disagree (as does Shel). He goes as far as to say this type of practice is inevitable.
What this brings to mind for me is an idea that was being tossed around security circles in financial services organizations a couple of years ago (I was privy to some very interesting conversations about the state of security with an ex-secret service guy which would curl your hair). But the gist of it was that in the face of phishing, especially, it would behoove banks to proactively post information about possible phishing scams, security breaches, data losses etc. on their websites - a special security page - that people could check to see if the email they received about said issues was legitimate. This transparency would aid in helping people better understand what they were receiving, promoting trust in their institutions etc. Of course the objections (howls) was that it would do the opposite, showing that there were problems to begin with, giving competitors insight on the problems etc. etc.
Transparency efforts often seem to to falter due to the idea that competitors will steal, take advantage etc. And customers suffer the results. This must change.
Personally, I think companies should pay just a little more attention to their own offerings and practices than what the other guy is doing. I'd love to see some information on what actually happened when a company added transparency measures. Did the competitive mayhem actually arise? Because when we expect it to happen, that expectation becomes some sort of truth. But in fact, it is nothing of the kind.
Basing our practices on what we believe to be true, instead of what actually may be the case is what creates and/or supports the inertia that leaves the field open to unethical practice. Why not take a risk in a positive direction instead of simply dwelling in the negative?