The only way is ethics? An internal communications view

Internal communicator (and former Murdoch journo) Lauren McMenemy debates morals in our business

“I met with a financial advisor and he said to me ‘Do you want to pay less tax? It’s totally legal.’ I said ‘Yes.’”

Even though comedian Jimmy Carr went on to tweet “I now realise I’ve made a terrible error of judgement”, the injury had been done. Jimmy Carr was a damaged brand. His way with the ironic one-liners would not be enough to dig him out of this hole: a hole filled with offshore tax dodging and an outraged Prime Minster declaring him “morally repugnant”.

And it’s that last little bit we’ll hone in on now: morally repugnant. Morals, in the modern media? Surely not! Do communicators have a duty to be moral? And whose morals are they anyway?

In these days of superinjunctions protecting philandering footballers and private investigators providing Fleet Street scoops, do we really have a right to ask for internal communicators to be moral, upstanding citizens?

It’s ok to pinch that image from Google, right?

We’re all faced with pressure to find content. Words and pictures drive our business, but where do we get them from when Bob in Accounts is refusing to have his photo taken for the intranet news story because he’s having a bad hair day? How else can we illustrate the exciting world of process change, besides turn to Google images and right-click then save?

The answer to that one is: either buy an image or don’t use one. Google is so tempting, but it is in fact a breach of copyright to use any internet image without permission from the owner. Search for SOPA and PIPA, the proposed 2011 US internet piracy laws that were eventually defeated, to get some context there.

You might think, “well, who’s going to find out?” But that’s not the point. The point is, the image is not yours, and using it is just like illegally downloading a movie or shoplifting, morally-speaking.

Thanks for the confidential information; I can buy shares now, yes?

The financial market is a tricky business – as if we needed more proof than reading a newspaper these days (thanks, Barclays) – and those who work in corporate comms are often privy to confidential information.

You know that info pack you have to prepare because the Board has decided to shut down the local factory and go offshore? What’s to stop you, the day before the official announcement to the stock exchange, ringing the trading house and shouting “BUY! SELL!”

That niggle you feel is Mother Morals, reminding you of the confidentiality clause you no doubt signed with your employment contract and chastising you for profiting from others’ misfortune.

Dear Twitter, the people I work with are idiots

Ah, social media. Less of a moral dilemma here and more of a common sense prevails one. Don’t slag off your colleagues or your workplace in a public forum. Facebook is the modern-day equivalent of having a pint down the pub, just with more people listening. Remember that before boasting or venting. It’s just like gossiping by the water cooler; someone’s bound to overhear, and not feel great. What was it your mother said about gossips?

What do you mean that was a great speech, CEO? I wrote it, dammit!

Welcome to internal comms: you’ll spend your days making others look good and see them take credit for your work.

We are the invisible people. We work to make everyone else in the organisation feel warm and fuzzy about working there, or to keep them informed during change, or to just generally keep up morale. That’s what we’re employed to do. We are the engagers, the cheer squad, the shoulder to cry on.

We are not the ones who will get credit when things are going well. That great away day you organised? Take heart in the fact everyone enjoyed it, and that the boss’s speech went down well. Don’t jump up and down looking for your credit. It’s unbecoming. (And a good CEO will give credit where it’s due, too.)

Modern media moralising

It seems these days morals in media are the big talking point. We have Lord Justice Leveson sitting over at the RCJ hearing all about the murky dealings of tabloid journalists, and we sit there and chastise and tut and feel superior.

But when it comes to internal communications, how do we judge what’s right and wrong, appropriate or not? We’d love to hear your thoughts. Turn to twitter with the hashtag #icmorals and let the debate begin.