Put that in your pipe and smoke it

In a recent Inside PR podcast, I was taken to task for my statement (and I’m paraphrasing) that in Canada, tobacco companies are legal entities and, while most of us would say that smoking is bad for you, tobacco companies, like other Canadian corporations, are entitled to PR. To me, this is similar to the right of legal representation.

I still believe that. In much the same way that I believe in free speech though I may not always like or agree with what’s being said (or written).

And for that reason I don’t think our industry should get into a position where we become the arbiters of what’s ‘right’ and dictate what work others should or should not do. That smacks of censorship; small-minded political correctness. We are not holier than thou ‘Big Brothers’ (and I don’t mean the TV show); we are communicators.

In any case, the decision as to whether or not you’re going to take on a company’s work is (or should be) yours. This can be tough if you’re employed by an organization that chooses a direction you don’t support. If that happens, I would urge you to think long and hard and do what YOU think is right (even if that means having to leave a job).

As for me, I consider myself an ethical PR practitioner and adhere to the CPRS code of professional standards*. I believe we should never lie for a client or break the law. But our industry is not the country’s judge and jury. Nor should it be. We don’t have an inside track on a so-called moral high ground.

In my books, there’s nothing wrong with trying to help facilitate an honest, transparent, two-way conversation between an organization and its publics. Isn’t that what the profession is all about?

When I was a kid and had a ‘talking to’ for something I did, my dad used to say, ‘put that in your pipe and smoke it’. Which meant he wanted me to consider his perspective and hopefully learn something.

But I guess in these days and times that expression would be considered politically wrong.

*Disclosure: I am the CPRS Toronto accreditation committee co-chair.

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