(Note: This is based on one of the prompts from Robert S. Kaplan’s book What You’re Really Meant to Do.)
So last time I shared some of the ethical guidelines I’ve striven to adhere to over the years I’ve spent working and advising clients and employers. Guidelines are great, but it’s also important to know where the absolute boundaries are, the lines you won’t cross.
Just as with anything else regarding personal and business ethics, adhering to these guidelines and boundaries is going to bring you into conflict at some point or another with someone you work with. That’s inevitable. It’s not that these are bad people. Most of the time it’s just because they aren’t as well-informed as you might be on a particular issue so has a different perspective. They simply think the guardrails are in a different place. It’s therefore incumbent on subject matter experts to educate and inform, providing the background and context for why a line in the sand isn’t just a subjective, arbitrary one but is objective and immovable.
So Where Are My Own Boundaries?
When I think about the lines I’ve drawn over the years in the workplace they almost all have to do with transparency and misrepresentation. It’s been a “thing” for me in more than a few meeting and I’ve taken every opportunity to explain to the other people in the room or on the phone why it’s so important to me.
Long before the FTC was even considering guidelines around disclosure of paid sponsorships or the reviewing of free products, my coworkers and colleagues and I were pushing for anyone we worked with to be transparent about the relationship. Back when Tom Biro and I were putting together an influencer review program, we included a caveat in the contract saying that while participants were not required to write about the product on their blogs, if they did so they needed to disclose that they got it from us as part of a marketing effort.
That focus has continued over the years. Influencers or fans recruited into marketing plans needed to explain to their audience that they were getting special access or products from the company. Paid ads that were placed on the networks I was managing needed to include clear messaging flagging it as an ad. This was all before Facebook or Instagram put tools in place to formalize these disclosures.
While that commitment to disclosure has remained firm, I will admit to evolved thinking on another issue. Like many of those in my generation, I was initially strongly against any form of ghostwriting in the budding world of corporate blogging. If a post said it was coming from the CEO or CMO, it darn well better be coming from the CEO or CMO.
I’ve mellowed on that, though. Eventually, it became clear that these blog posts weren’t all that different from other C-level communications like bylined op-eds or shareholder letters which were often written by marketing teams and signed off on by their eventual “authors.” Not only am I more understanding of this being a common practice, I’ve done it myself.
What Are You Comfortable With?
It comes down to what sort of tactics you’re comfortable not only with signing off on but being held accountable for. Someone may not have a problem in theory with saying no, influencers don’t *need* to disclose how they’re being paid for creating marketing content. But when you explain how it can embarrass both the agency they work for and the client they’re working with, ultimately getting them fired for encouraging the violation of clear rules, one would hope their tune would change.
What’s been your core issue, the hill you’ve been willing to die on?