An Ethical Approach to Media Training

Let’s talk ethics. Okay, it may not be the most enthralling topic. But it matters as a media source, as a buyer of communications training services, and to your consultant.

One of the most egregious ethical lapses takes place among those who try to do communications consulting while also claiming journalistic credentials. I cannot shout in strong enough language: This is unethical.

Straddling the Ethical Fence

One cannot play both sides of the fence and maintain a clear conscience when dealing with clients and editors. Yes, sometimes people find themselves in tough luck situations such as unemployment or illness in the family. If it’s a choice between ethics and putting food on the family table, okay, I get it. But my guess is that this situation is the exception. Even so, how can one ignore ethics?

Fingers crossed

Let me share one example with you, a Twitter user whose description reads as follows: “[my public relations agency] offers a complete press and media relations management service. I also work as a freelance reporter for [media outlet].” He might as well create a background on his Twitter screen reading, “Ethically challenged.”

Another individual I run into every now and then proudly trumpets the fact that he lives on both sides of the fence, doing some communications work but also claiming to be a journalist. This is such a clear conflict of interest. I just shake my head and move along.

A Matter of Conscience

I hire assistant training consultants occasionally when in need of multiple experts for large group projects, or when I bring them on board to conduct a telephone interview during a media training session. Newsroom experience is vital for media training (if you’re in the market for such services, be sure your consultant has some journalistic experience). What if I hired a working reporter as assistant training consultant and he heard something juicy and confidential? Where does his responsibility rest? Would he feel duty bound to his client and maintain confidentiality? Or does the reporter’s voice in his head take over and send him running to an editor to pitch a freelance piece?

Ethics are also essential from the vantage point of a businessperson. It is so important to me that I’ve placed my ethical guidelines on my web site for all to see (do your own survey and see how many other communications training consultants put their ethical standards front and center; you’ll find the answer rather disheartening).

It’s common sense stuff, basically boiling down to treating others the way you’d like to be treated. The guidelines include such principles as clients come first, a vow to terminate relationships with clients who lie, and a commitment to client confidentiality.

The Institute of Management Consultants places a strong emphasis on ethics. While I am no longer a member of that organization, I still commend its code of ethics. As its web site states, the code is intended to encourage consultants to “maintain their professionalism and adhere to high ethical standards as they provide services to clients and in their dealings with their colleagues and the public.”

Why does this matter to you, as one who may be in the market for communications training services? Any consultant lacking an ethical conscience puts you at risk for the following:

  • Busting your budget by padding your invoice with hidden costs.
  • Placing your reputation in danger due to a lack of awareness of or attention to conflicts of interest.
  • Trouble, including possible legal jeopardy, by encouraging you to lie or play games with the truth.
  • Blabbing publicly about sensitive issues that you need to keep confidential.
  • Failing to represent you in a professional light.
  • Ending up with a faux consultant who lacks the skills you need and deserve.

Your Next Step

What can you do to ensure your communications training consultant is ethical and above board? First, ask him for his written ethical guidelines. Also, ask him about specific aspects of his ethical approach (feel free to use my ethical guidelines as a reference). Finally, if you pose these questions are met with a blank stare, look elsewhere. Don’t put your valuable time or budget dollars at risk.

Have you been burned by an unethical practitioner? What other recommendations do you have for smoking out your potential consultant’s ethics?



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