Every year, as it has since 2001, Edelman releases its annual Trust Barometer, which measures trust in business, media, government and nonprofit sectors. The 2018 version shows that trust by the numbers has plummeted, especially in the U.S.
While trust in journalism showed an increase, according to the research, trust in platforms declined. Consumers include content platforms in their definition of media, Edelman’s research reveals, and fewer trust media than ever before. That lack of trust is due to a perceived or real lack of business ethics, especially in the media.
I believe strongly in putting my principals into action.* So, some work, I’ll decline outright.
What Edelman’s study proves is the unfortunate reality that the phrase “business ethics” seems to be an oxymoron today; truth has become optional. Worse, that construct appears to have become the foundation of our current national leadership. That means now, more than ever, taking leadership in business means clearly expressing dedication to ethical business practices, especially in communications.
For me, that goes well beyond a promise not to plagiarize—which of course, is one of my ethical standards. As someone has a history as an advocacy journalism covering events that harm those with little power to fight back, it’s important I bring that same commitment to my content writing business. I only provide communications and content writing services to enterprises that practice high ethical standards. Here’s what that means.
I don’t work with organizations with an egregious history of…anything.
I know this ethical stance is typically (and almost exclusively) associated with Millennials. However, most of them learned this from us—their Gen X parents. Every age group has those whose ethics are dishonorable. I’m not one of those in my generation.
Moreover, this is so essential a part of my core ethical principals, it deserves to be addressed separately. I believe strongly in putting my principals into action.* That includes my commitment to sustainable global entrepreneurship and financial success and not just my own. I believe that begins at home (but I extend this policy to enterprises abroad, too). Just as I wouldn’t invest money in businesses that work against the social good, I won’t invest my talent into such enterprises.
I choose to bring my talents to enterprises where the core business strategy reflects the essential tenets of the ESG or TSI.
That means I won’t accept work for any organization, particularly a financial institution, that I know has a recent history of significant ethical lapses. That includes major fraud allegations that have gotten substantiated or economic exploitation of any group on the globe.
If a firm has a history of discriminatory hiring, lending, housing or other practices, and any other behavior that is disreputable, I will reject offers of contract work with them. That’s especially true of those that have deliberately harmed communities of color, women, elderly or other unsuspecting consumers or investors—and freelancers, consultants or other gig workers.
I also will stop working with any enterprise I learn has engaged in any such behavior but about which I wasn’t aware when I accepted the work.
I may decline work from organizations who don’t put ESG or TSI principles into action
Because I work primarily with large public companies in the FIRE sector, I often refuse opportunities from those with that don’t employ PRI’s ESG fundamentals or better, focus on and implement TSI—Total Societal Impact principles into their business operations.
That’s because most publicly-traded financial institutions know what these principles are and their leaders determine not to employ them from top to bottom of their enterprise. Their treatment of employees and the public—including independent consultants like me—usually reflects that.
So, I choose to bring my talents to enterprises where the core business operations reflect the essential tenets of the ESG or TSI. This includes practicing fiduciary standards if you’re in wealth or investment management.
There are multiple examples of corporations whose senior leadership incorporates these values into their daily business activities because they’ve concluded they can achieve more profitability than without them. They recognize ending accelerating global economic and social inequality begins at home with changing the way they conduct business to reflect values that support financial inclusivity and equitable diversity and inclusion.
If your organization is undergoing a cultural transformation to rectify those grievous practices, that’s outstanding. But, my policy is to wait at least 3-5 years before considering working with your enterprise under this brand to determine if the endeavor is authentic.
The only exception is if I’m providing corporate communications consulting services to you under this brand to help you incorporate change management or business transformation communications strategies into your cultural renewal program.
I distinguish clearly between editorial content and marketing copy
For the most part, editorial content is message and engagement driven, not sales-focused. Editorial content get written educate, inform, change behaviors, or encourage different actions. It tells stories, much like those you’d read in newspapers, not sells products or services like the ads appearing next to those stories.
The latter is marketing copy and clients who engage me to write this important sales tool can expect me to write it as if its purpose is selling, not storytelling.
That’s true of sponsored content, too. I’m not comfortable misrepresenting any content I write as anything other than what it is whether it has my highly-valuable byline on it or not. My audiences—readers, editors and corporate clients—always have trusted me to be honest with them and correct myself if I make an error. I’ve honored that expectation throughout my career.
Because I’d want audiences of any content I produce to know its purpose, I will tell them. If I learn later that I wasn’t properly informed of what the content’s true intention was, I’ll inform them of that.
Moreover, please expect me to quote fees consistent with the different value each brings and decline work that requires me to write editorial content as marketing copy. I don’t, however, guarantee results of any editorial content I write (or strategy I develop). Success also depends on a variety of factors internal to your organization.
I also reserve the right to disengage from contracts or assignments where the client has switched the direction of assigned work immediately after I accept the work.
I disclose all affiliate relationships
I frequently get asked by leading brands to link to their sites from my blog. While I appreciate their interest, I don’t accept that offer to drive traffic to their sites with without payment of an affiliate fee. In cases where payment is free products or services, I’ll disclose to site visitors that I accepted that form of payment when I do.
There are several criteria I use to determine whether I will work with a brand and charge commissions consistent with those paid by financial brands. I can discuss those with serious about affiliate relationships.
However, one of the ways I make decisions about whether to establish an affiliate relationship whether the opportunity is consistent with my business ethics as described on this page. But I also comply closely with FTC rules regarding endorsements.
Additionally, I clearly identify affiliate links to my audiences and add disclosures at the top of any blog post or other pages containing those links. I will not provide both writing or content strategy and affiliate partnering to any client without divulging the relationship to the public.
I don’t provide media placement services
I won’t accept payment from editorial content clients to use my influence as a journalist to get paid assignments in major media under my byline writing stories about you or your brand.
Moreover, if a story source later hires me as a communications consultant in any capacity, I cannot use them again as a source for any bylined story I write for any publication or website.
Please read my blog post on the subject, 5 Reasons This Journalist Won’t Provide Media Placement.
Similarly, I won’t do paid product placement on my blog or social media without revealing the activity or the relationship relationship with the brand. However, I might give an independent review on a product or service that identifies brands as part of the review when I’m not working working with the brand.
I only provide ghostwritten content under specific circumstances
When I offer “ghostwriting” services, I do so under the most ethical standards. I prefer the brand’s name go on the content, not the name an individual employed by the brand (unless your organization identifies it as “posted by” or names me as a collaborator on the content).
As you’re well aware, the financial services industry maintains stringent rules and guidelines for social media and content marketing. My objective is to help you maintain compliance with them, not help you cross any line that could get your ethics questioned, causing you multiple problems you don’t need.
I enjoy working most with brands with similar business ethics
I offer all of my services under the highest ethical standards to maintain absolute integrity and, just as you would, I must decline any offer to provide services that to do not meet that standard. If you or your brand operate the same way, I’d love to explore opportunities to work with you.
(* Credit for this concept must go to my Georgetown University Change Management Communications faculty member, Kevin Bubel. A BCW Global (formerly Burston-Marsteller) senior leader who co-founded its Business Transformation Communications practice, he has helped clients do this. I have now adopted the construct for my business activities. I’m close to completing my graduate degree in corporate communications at Georgetown where ethical values are part of the institution’s ethos and are ingrained across the culture. I take them seriously.)
(c) 2018. Get Money Moxie, Inc., a division of Thrive Media, Inc. All rights reserved.
Image credit: Gemma Evans—Unsplash