Ethical Communications: things to think about when considering corporate identity and ethics'

Most organizations agree that ethical communication is vital for their employees and company culture. Maintaining ethical communications can strengthen a company’s position and public relations. There’s also more chance of legal action if communication is misleading. In this guide, we ask what is ethical communications, things to consider when thinking of ethics and corporate identity, and examples.

published: August 29, 2023
updated: August 29, 2023

What is ethical corporate communication? Definition and explanation

Modern business needs transparency and workable codes of conduct. This is where ethical communication comes in.

It can be defined as communicating responsibly and truthfully and being conscious of the world and the people around you.

It is the idea that communication should simultaneously be efficient, accurate, and moral.

The Public Relations Society of America lays down an ethical code that covers honesty, advocacy, independence, and other values that should be adhered to.

Ethical communication requires considering what is legally required of us and how our words and actions affect those around us. The world is more driven by 'moral' brands now - it's not just legal; it's also about perception and trust. It involves being aware of the potential implications of our communication, being honest and transparent, and being sensitive to the needs of all stakeholders. It also means ensuring our communication is clear, accurate, and respectful.

A choice needs to be made with ethics. What does your brand stand for? What values do you want to exude that typify your brand? An organization must decide what practices and procedures it will engage in to build trust with customers and show it in its desired light.

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The benefits of ethical communications

Employees, members of the public and other stakeholders can get a sense of who a company is, through these communications. Corporate ethical guidelines reinforce the brand’s key messages and provide rules for everyone that guide daily interactions. Communications are the lifeblood of an organization, so it makes sense to get this right and to have messaging in place to get the best out of people, inspire people to get where they want to be and give moral guidance on all matters. It makes work life a lot easier. Examples of unethical comms might be non-transparent reporting and greenwashing on environmental matters.

When board members decide on their corporate identity, they must create ethical guidelines that address various dilemmas and how they will face them. They must weigh up the needs of internal and external stakeholders. It is worth noting that these guidelines could change over time.
An inconsistent message will result in a lack of clarity and purpose for those in the organization and could lead to reckless or unethical behavior.


Enhanced reputation

Ethical communications can help build a positive brand. Companies need to assess the situation beforehand and then make a decision on their ethical practices. A plan or internal brand book can help in situations such as mismanagement, non-compliance, or fraud. It could help differentiate you from your competitors, increasing trust and loyalty. And ultimately profits. It's about defining corporate identity as to what you value and then adhering to that.

Customer bonds with brands can last a lifetime if a customer can see that a business communicates honestly and respectfully. Doing so demonstrates a commitment to something more than just profit. It shows accountability and respect for rules and regulations.


Increased customer engagement

By practicing ethical communications, businesses effectively engage with stakeholders at a much deeper level. When decisions are taken based on listening to the opinions of others, it sends a message that their viewpoint has been heard and valued in the decision-making process.

This culture of collaboration can foster an emotional connection and active engagement with a brand.


Improved employee morale and performance

To be successful, employees need a code of conduct as a valid resource. Ethical communication creates a sense of trust and belonging for people within an organization. When employees feel they work for a palace that aligns with their values, it can boost their morale and loyalty, leading to higher productivity and reduced turnover. You can’t put a price on an employee who feels this.

Many individuals are attracted to companies prioritizing ethics in today's socially conscious world. Brands will need to focus on ethics to reach employees and potential employees who, since Covid, have more options regarding how and where they work. Ethical communications can help businesses attract and retain talent who align with a company's ethical considerations.

Stakeholders now have more input on how ethical comms transpire. Companies are more likely to involve them and actively seek to engage them - rather than just throwing a rulebook at them and hoping they follow it.


Crisis management

With business success comes responsibility, and the consequences of something going wrong needs to be shouldered by someone. Accountability is a willingness to take responsibility for the problems that arise. Corporate ethical communications give businesses a solid foundation to bounce back from a crisis, providing communication guidance during difficult times. This communication helps maintain trust and minimizes damage to the brand's reputation.

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Legal and regulatory compliance

Ethical communications can ensure organizations meet any necessary regulatory or legal requirements. These range from financial disclosures (Enron, anyone?) to fair marketing practices and environmental issues. You may recall when Volkswagen had fitted software to its diesel cars to detect when they were being tested in a lab and turn off nitrogen emissions controls. As a result, Volkswagen's reputation took a nose dive.

The lesson is when ethics go out of the window, businesses can face heavy legal and reputational consequences.


Providing clarity

For any successful organization, clear communication is vital. Communication should always be clear, precise, and direct, especially at work. A clearly defined set of ethics should be a must for any organization. It gives employees the knowledge to understand what is expected of them and where individual responsibility begins and ends.

Unethical conversations generally are carried out without knowing what is said is wrong, or from being unprepared. This is why media training is important. An unclear or contradictory message can lead to events that can cause serious harm to a company. With clearly defined rules and boundaries, ethical communication should put a stop to that and be part of your wider social governance strategy.

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Principles of ethical communications

A code of conduct is the nuts and bolts of your organization's culture and 'personality.' It should capture exactly who you are and what you believe. It should form the basis of how you make decisions and ensure business integrity. An ethical corporate culture is the very foundation of a company.

1. Honesty

While it may sound like a no-brainer not to tell lies, it's still worth stating. Companies need to decide what they want to share and what not to share. While they have responsibilities to the public, they must also consider their stakeholders (e.g. stockholders!). It is up to you what you decide to share, but you cannot wilfully share dishonest information.

2. Respect

A fundamental aspect of ethical communication is respect and tolerance. Think about your audience. This dictates the tone and what is said. Remember, not every communication will be the same, but every communication must be clear to avoid confusion. Remove illegible jargon that people won’t understand. If not, your audience will switch off and not buy into the message. And will likely do so for other communications.

Multinational companies need to translate communication to make sure everyone in the company is included. Also, use inclusive language. The use of respectful communication will promote a culture of openness and inclusion.

3. Privacy

A key ethical consideration is the protection of client and public data. Many countries in Europe are governed by General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) that regulates Information privacy. You only have to see the frenzied headlines and column inches filled when a big company suffers a data leak. But with so much data at stake and what can happen if it gets into the wrong hands, it’s not hard to see why.

Do not share customer data. This also goes for any private conversations you have with third parties. You should also not share conversations with colleagues where they discuss private or confidential things with you.

4. Accountability

Take ownership of your actions and their consequences, including when it comes to communication. This means promptly taking responsibility for mistakes or lapses in judgment. Acknowledge and apologize publicly for them and their impact on customers or colleagues.

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How to be an ethical communicator?

Communication can greatly affect your workplace’s culture and have a big impact on those around you. It’s a good idea to know where to start. As well as considering the above-mentioned items, it would also be wise to read these. And take them on board to be a good ethical communicator.


Be tactful

Tact involves telling the truth while considering others' feelings. Giving difficult feedback, communicating sensitive information, and preserving relationships are all possible if used well. Tact requires self-awareness and thoughtfulness on behalf of the person practicing it, but the benefits are immense.

In any business, it is essential to deliver honest and relevant feedback. It's how people improve, and the business gets the most from its employees. It forms an essential component of ethical communication as it can allow for the constructive delivery of negative news. Tact and professionalism can often mask our true emotions, which is useful in business.


Be culturally alert

It should be evident by now that when conducting ethical communications, you should be mindful of the diverse nature of your audience. Being culturally alert can strengthen your company’s external reputation and attract the right talent you want.

This is where cultural awareness comes in. Responding to our surroundings and all the variables at play is imperative. You should also be mindful of how different people interpret messages. By being culturally aware, we truly value diversity. It is a continual process.


Understanding and patience

As the old saying goes, patience is a virtue. And it's true. Being patient often results in better-informed decisions, a less stressed work environment, and happier staff. In a setting that values speed and immediacy, we often forget that we are human and do so at our peril.

Patience and understanding mean we see the problem, have realistic time expectations, and create better relationships with our colleagues. By facilitating understanding, we create a culture of mindfulness and respect, which will only improve over time and strengthen your corporate identity.


Fact check before you speak

Stop and think before you communicate. Have you got all the facts about the information you’re choosing to share? Internal fat-checking boosts your credibility and reputation inside the company. It should form the basis of your ethical communications.

Listen to both sides of an argument first. Don't rush into things; develop the habit of seeing concrete proof before making any key decisions. If you don't, your competence in the eyes of others will take a nose dive, and you could end up making detrimental decisions you’ll later regret.


Be professional

Acting professionally means being courteous, truthful, and respectful at all times. It's the cornerstone of all communications and helps when you want people to sit up, listen, and act on what you say.

When speaking to everyone from the floor up to the CEO, being professional ensures people understand and respect you and see communication as a two-way street, which is invaluable for a healthy organization.

The role of ethics in PR

One of PR's main functions is to build brand credibility. For this reason, ethics is key in public relations. All stakeholder communications should focus on honesty, authenticity, and trustworthiness.

In the age of “fake news,” public relations must be wary of potentially deceiving audiences. Fact-checking must be routine. We must hold ourselves accountable. Internet advancements have brought the world many advancements but also an invasion of misinformation. As professionals who rely on media sources, we must be careful of the rise in deep fakes and people misrepresenting what we say.

In the same way, people have ethics, so should PR companies. Consider who you are as an agency and what you want to represent. Are you happy representing businesses that harm people or the environment? Think cigarettes, unhealthy food, or oil and gas industries. You can’t retrospectively say what your principles are. Here at PRLab, we’ve signed the clean creatives initiative, pledging not to work with companies in the fossil fuel industry.

Companies can exaggerate their moral credentials on the other end of the scale.

You wouldn’t want to buy from a company that claims to give more money to charity than it does, and the same applies to companies claiming to be more environmentally friendly than they are.

No article discussing comms ethics would be complete without covering the topic of AI, which represents enormous opportunities for many industries, including marketing and comms. However, bias issues have recently been a hot topic. The application of AI in the communications industry is in its infancy, but there have been examples of AI-created press releases and even AI-generated news articles. Machine-generated content can be hard to tell from human-written original content and poses a long list of ethical considerations.

Companies can mitigate AI risks by prioritizing a human-centered approach, involving stakeholders, fostering transparency, and monitoring. However, these things have cost implications, which conflict with using AI. Without new regulations, it is still up to the creators of AI tools to self-police the technology.

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Examples of ethical communications

Ethics and communication can be complex; not everything can be covered here. Needless to say, the setting and type of organization can dictate ethical communication. Just think of a medical work setting or one in a legal backdrop. Below are some examples of effective, ethical communication.

PR professionals must be wary and conscious of exploiting people's fears and attitudes to certain topics, such as emotive subjects. Jumping on the bandwagon of popular opinion when it is not necessarily in the interests of the public or not fully thought out constitutes a severe breach of ethical communication and a violation of a duty.

In finance and banking, ethical communication should ensure accurate and transparent communication, which allows individuals to make well-informed decisions about products and services. Those dispensing advice must be fully trained and not breach ethical codes for their own benefit. The consequences of breaking this are detrimental decisions for those using these services or products and an overall lack of faith in the financial system.

In the world of big tech, how data is compiled and used is of paramount importance as far as ethics goes. In the last few years, we've seen the distrust sowed when tech collects people's data for their own benefit, often at the expense of doing the right thing. It's made people ultra-wary of using services. The issue of hate speech and cybersecurity has also arisen. A commitment to ethical communication is needed to ensure the public's well-being.

While a company will make decisions on ethical considerations to guide its practices and daily operations, the environment should definitely be considered. Corporate actions must take the planet and the environment into account. A conscious view of the environment promotes sustainable, efficient use of resources. A company should share how its products and services are made, transported, and sold.


Poor or inappropriate communication can negatively impact morale in the workplace. It's everyone's responsibility to ensure that doesn't happen. While efficient communication is a must, we should keep sight of the fact that everyone is human. We should also remember that compassion is important, even in the workplace. By using ethical communication, we know what's right and appropriate to say and can avoid any moral dilemmas. Corporate ethics can provide a roadmap for an organization’s activities and objectives.

Do you need to implement ethical business practices but need help determining where to begin? Reach out to our ethical communication PR agency today to learn how you can benefit from these communications.

August 29, 2023
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