It came as no surprise last fall when the annual Gallup Survey of respect for professions reflected that only 11 percent of Americans held marketing and advertising professionals in high regard. The survey had been returning this same result for a number of years. In fact, in 2007 the profession had ranked only three from the very bottom of the list.
But many within the marketing industry knew that in 2009 this result was different than in past years. For much of the year prior to the disclosure of the results, they had been reading in the industry literature and learning about just how different these Generation X and Y consumers were. They had learned that this was the most powerful consumer in history. Armed with the Internet and the power of social media, this consumer not only had very clear ideas relative to such issues as transparency, integrity, scrutiny and trusting relationships at every level but, more importantly, they were demonstrating the ability and willingness to punish without process those professionals who failed to achieve their standards. In other words, they knew that the era of winking at and ignoring ethical issues and unethical practices was over.
So what did this more than 100-year-old profession do about its dilemma? Their leadership decided to act in a very immediate and decisive manner. For starters, the American Advertising Foundation is teaming up with University of Missouri’s Reynolds Journalism Institute to launch an Institute of Advertising ethics. With this move they are recognizing the first issue of contemporary ethical practice. The oversight activity must be removed from the practice organization. Today’s consumer recognizes that ethical enforcement by trade associations during the past several decades has not been a successful experiment. Their second decision and perhaps not the wisest one was naming a former foundation CEO to head up the program.This decision, while popular in the profession, will not add to the credibility of the new program. Hopefully what it lacks in common sense will be made up in his ability to convince his former colleagues to play ethically.
This gentleman’s first comments suggest a positive outlook might be in order. He was quoted as saying, “How are we going to have a positive relationship with our consumers and recruit the best and brightest people into the profession if people think we are charlatans?”
The new organization’s first order of business will be to conduct an extensive study relative to what consumers believe regarding ethics in advertising. This is a refreshing change from other organizations that have started by having a collection of senior practitioners offer their opinions. This industry knows that what its practitioners want is no longer relevant. In today’s economy it is all about what the consumer thinks.
The new organization’s second home run comes from its decision to design and implement an ethics recognition program that begins the arduous task of repairing the industry’s image by recognizing firms and individuals who are exercising exceptional ethics in their day to day practices. This is another very wise and positive step. Instead of suggesting that all advertising professionals are ethical, the profession will identify those who are practicing with the highest standards and verify that “many” advertising professionals are ethical. It takes a lot of courage to begin the process of recognizing that not all within any given profession are ethical, but that many are.
The new organization’s grand slam home run will occur in a year or two when it introduces standards of ethical practice. Here again it is demonstrating that it “gets” the contemporary business scene by recognizing that the moment in history of the “Code of Ethics” is over. Today’s consumer understands that unclear standards are un-enforced and ignored standards. The idea of allowing for personal interpretation of ethical issues failed completely during the past 30 years. When everyone is being candid, there are really no questions regarding ethical behaviors. Suggesting the existence of a “close zone” only encourages those who believe they can slip back on the good side when they catch someone watching them.
The advertising industry is to be congratulated as it undertakes this courageous effort. It will not be an easy task, but it is a task that must be accomplished for any profession that hopes to co-exist with today’s consumer.
So what, you say, does this have to do with the real estate profession? Thank you for asking. In response we would share the following observations.
• Our industry continues to look the other way relative to ethical issues. We apparently believe that we can escape the scrutiny of today’s consumer when it comes to issues of ethics and ethical practice.
• We continue to ignore the fact that the existing REALTOR® professional standards system stopped working some years ago. Measured either by operational metrics or emotional support within the profession it is simply a non-starter. Try implementing an ethical REALTOR® of the year program and see how you do.
• We continue to believe that ethical behavior can be driven into the REALTOR® culture without effective enforcement or appropriate recognition. There is simply no clinical evidence to support either of these theories.
So here we are standing along side the highway of commerce ignoring the overwhelming body of evidence that is telling us that we must prepare ourselves and our profession for a whole new era of practice and consumer acceptance.We don’t have to be as dynamic as our brothers and sisters in the advertising industry. But why not start the conversation. We are not going to escape the ethical scrutiny of today’s consumer and a market that become more transparent every day, so let’s begin our rehabilitation with recognition. We can meet this challenge. Let’s get started.