Make ethics count in all business practices

Regardless of your industry, one thing is true: in an increasingly competitive marketplace, you’ve got to fight to maintain your reputation as a reliable, preferred partner. You must continuously earn your customers’ trust.

Unfortunately, from BP to AIG to News Corp., you don’t have to look far today to learn how not to build trust.

It’s an issue everywhere you look, including in my own industry of marketing communications. Recognizing a need to set a better example, the Institute for Advertising Ethics (IAE) has established the “Principles and Practices for Advertising.” The eight principles advance the highest personal and professional ethics in advertising, public relations and marketing communications, including:

1. Sharing truth while serving the public.
2. Creating and disseminating commercial information to consumers.
3. Distinguishing ads, public relations and corporate communications from news and editorial content and entertainment, both online and offline.
4. Disclosing all material conditions, such as payment or receipt of a free product, affecting endorsements in social and traditional channels, as well as the identity of endorsers, all in the interest of full disclosure and transparency.
5. Treating consumers fairly based on the nature of the audience to whom the ads are directed and the nature of the product or service advertised.
6. Never compromising consumers’ personal privacy in marketing communications; their choices as to whether to participate in providing personal information should be transparent and easily made.
7. Following federal, state and local advertising laws, and cooperating with industry self-regulatory programs for the resolution of advertising practices.
8. Discussing privately potential ethical concerns, and giving permission to teams creating ads to express internally their ethical concerns.

Although these principles were developed for marketing communications, in reality they’re applicable to all business activities. After all, ethical conduct is a critical component of every successful business relationship. The strongest relationships are built not just on contracts and transactions, but on the ethical foundations of honesty, trust and open engagement.

And ultimately, there is a bottom-line benefit. Building trust through a demonstrated commitment to ethics helps tap into customers’ positive emotions. That, in turn, primes customers to make purchasing decisions in your favor as well as promote your brand through their personal networks (via word of mouth or social media) – attracting more customers in the process.

Remember that ethical principles also are important to potential employees. Smart, talented, ethical people seek to work for smart, talented, ethical companies. Upholding ethics helps to attract like-minded talent you need to reinforce ethical conduct and maintain customers’ trust.

The IAE, which is administered by the American Advertising Federation (AAF), in partnership with the Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute (RJI) and the Missouri School of Journalism, aims to make its principles the industry standard. Our agency, Scheibel Halaska Inc., has signed on, and we hope many of our counterparts follow.

But it shouldn’t stop there. I believe it’s time we make ethics a top priority in every industry. As important as our customers’ trust is to our success, can we afford to do anything else?

Andy Narrai is the chief operating officer of Scheibel Halaska Inc. in Milwaukee.

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