1. The PR consultancy sector
Precis is an organisation of companies operating in the PR and communications consultancy sector. These standards are designed to provide both the member companies and their clients with guidance on what constitutes good practice in the industry. Standards can provide guidance in complicated situations, but they can never replace legislation or personal judgement.
PR or communications consultancies (hereinafter referred to as “PR consultancies”) assist their clients in their communication within individuals and groups in society. The way in which the engagements are carried out is determined by the client’s wishes and by the PR consultancies’ professional methods and ethical norms. The range of services extends from the provision of advice to implementation.
PR consultancies assist their clients (companies, organisations, governmental bodies and individuals) in their communication with many target groups (consumers, employees, political decision makers, financial market players, government bodies, etc.). The mass media is one – but seldom the only – channel used to reach these target groups.
2. The PR consultancy sector and society
In an open and democratic society, everyone has the right to express their opinion and to attempt to convince others of their arguments, but they also have the right to employ professional help in doing so.
PR consultancies operate within the framework of this open society, comply with its laws, rules and standards, and work with clients who do the same.
Democracy, freedom of speech, freedom of opinion and free competition – along with values such as openness and tolerance – are important prerequisites of the ability of PR consultancies to operate.
Information which is provided in confidence by a client and which is not a matter of public knowledge, must not be conveyed to other parties without the consent of the client. PR consultancies’ current and former clients must be able to rely on this information remaining confidential.
All employees at PR consultancies should be contractually obliged to keep information relating to clients’ businesses confidential, both during and after their employment by the consultancy.
The duty to observe confidentiality does not apply to matters of public record or arguments based on such information. If there is any doubt with regard to which information should be regarded as confidential, the PR consultancy shall clarify the issue with the client.
4. Methods and remuneration
PR consultancies and their clients operate in areas of society that are subject to legal and voluntary regulation. Freedom of speech legislation, press ethics rules, insider trading legislation, stock market contracts, the right of free access to public records, etc., make up the framework within which PR consultancies operate. A PR consultancy may not, of course, do anything that an individual citizen or other company may not do.
The PR consultancy shall, furthermore, conduct itself in an honourable and honest manner and shall otherwise comply with good business practice.
A PR consultancy may not deliberately mislead with regard to facts or to the interests represented by the company. Contacting interested parties under false pretences, e.g. by claiming to be a journalist – is not permitted.
A client can, however, delegate duties to a PR consultancy whose employees therefore may – on behalf of the client and within the framework of applicable regulations and agreements – act in the client’s name.
Nor may the PR consultancy breach regulations or contracts regulating the client’s business operations and of which the PR consultancy has grounds to be aware. This applies even if the client wishes to breach these regulations and it is the duty of the PR consultancy to inform the customer that it is acting in breach of or it wishes to act in a way that will constitute a breach of the relevant standards.
A PR consultancy is not under any general obligation to disclose information about its clients or the nature of its assignments to outside parties. The PR consultancy should, however, disclose the name of the client if requested when the company is in active contact with a third party, e.g. a journalist or decision maker, in connection with a specific concern.
Communication consultants have no obligation to disclose information about their client in the course of general informal contacts or conversations, e.g. for orientation on a particular issue.
An individual communication consultancy shall not provide active advice to clients wishing to influence decisions in publicly elected bodies of which the communication consultant is also a member. Nor may the consultant, in the course of their professional duties, abuse any access privileges that he or she may enjoy in the capacity of a popularly elected member of a body or an elected representative.
Whether a PR consultancy chooses to charge its clients per hour, per specified project, for results attained or according to some other variable, is a matter for the company and its clients. PR consultancies should not, however, price their services in a way that risks jeopardising the integrity of other professional groups, and pricing of a service in a way that is directly linked to the decisions of individual decision-makers with regard to the publication of articles, for example, is unethical and should be avoided.
The PR consultancy shall observe good practice and restraint with regard to gifts and entertainment for third parties.
5. Conflicts of interest between assignments
PR consultancy companies can work with competing clients or interests. Assisting two or more clients in the same industry is essentially a question of the individual company’s professional capacity.
It should be stated – in general contractual terms and conditions, in specific partnership agreements or through other communication with the client – that the PR consultancy cannot, in principle, see any hindrance to working with rival assignments.
It is incumbent upon the PR consultancy to determine whether a conflict of interests impacts the company’s ability to offer the commitment and value that the client expects. The PR consultancy shall inform the relevant parties if such hindrances arise.
A PR consultancy should ensure that the following conditions are met in order to be able to work with rival assignments:
A. That working groups are kept separate and that all activities – meetings, presentations, etc. – are conducted in such a way that confidential information about a client is not made available to those consultants working with the rival assignment.
B. That information, both on paper and that stored digitally, is kept separate for the respective working groups.
C. That the company, in these matters and in general – not least internally – is careful to observe proper confidentiality.
The question of contacts with third parties – media, decision-makers, etc. – poses a specific problem. The PR consultancy is responsible for ensuring that third parties are not negatively affected by the fact that the company represents competing issues on a particular issue.
Every PR consultancy is naturally free to adopt the principle of not working with rival assignments.
6. The consultative role
PR consultancies should not operate in areas or adopt interests that undermine their role as professional consultants. It is up to every company and its clients to determine what is compatible with their business concept. As the norm, however, the PR consultancy’s relationship with the client shall be characterised by professional loyalty to the client’s goals and interests.
The consultative role makes specific demands on the PR consultancy. The client must be able to trust that any other loyalties on the part of the PR consultancy – financial, political, etc., – will not take precedence over the client’s interests.
If there is any uncertainty with regard to whether the interests of individual consultants or companies affect their consultative role, any and all such circumstances shall be revealed in detail to the client.
7. Refusing and terminating assignments
The fundamental rule for the industry is that no operation that is legal and compatible with good business practice can, in general, be refused consultancy or other assistance with communication issues. Decisions to reject clients shall be a matter for the individual PR consultancy.
A PR consultancy shall be entitled, over and above its right to take into account normal considerations of methodologies, orientation, budget and expectations, to refuse assignments for reasons based on personal convictions or the company’s orientation. The considerations taken into account in such cases, e.g. with regard to the client’s operations, are a matter for the individual PR consultancy.
Assignments may be prematurely terminated and in accordance with contractual provisions.
These standards impose no obligation on the PR consultancy to complete the assignment if a client provides misleading information, has repeatedly chosen to ignore the PR consultancy’s advice, or in any other way, either deliberately or through negligence, damaged the PR consultancy’s business or reputation.
The PR consultancy is, however, obliged – within reasonable limits – to help clients who find themselves in complicated or vulnerable situations.