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The Conscience of a Profession

Earlier this month, I was privileged to attend for the first time an event hosted by the Arthur W. Page Society, a professional association of corporate communications executives who “seek to enrich and strengthen their profession.” Forgive me if at my age I get a little cynical about these kinds of events I’ve been to many hundreds of association meetings over the past 40 years.

Well, this one was different. These people were remarkably open, honest, vulnerable, and exceptionally helpful. Other good events over the years have usually been all about networking. With Arthur Page, the networking is certainly exceptional but so is the leadership and substance. There was no shying away from the real scrutiny of our collective responsibility and ethics in an age of fake news and advocacy-driven content.

Founded in 1983, the Arthur W. Page Society “consists primarily of chief communications officers (CCOs) of Fortune 500 corporations and leading non-profit organizations, the CEOs of the world’s foremost public relations agencies, and academics from top business and communications schools.” Strict membership criteria ensure serious, disinterested dialogue.

Subsequent to the event, the organization’s Board of Trustees published a set of bedrock principles, introduced as follows:

The Arthur W. Page Society is rooted in the Page Principles, the first of which is ‘Tell the truth.’ As communicators, our duty is to deal honestly in facts, even when they are inconvenient. Truth is not dead, as some may fear. It remains, as ever, the foundation of credibility and the lifeblood of trust. On behalf of the members of the Page Society, we reaffirm our deep commitment to ensuring truth in the practice of public communication.

Corporations, governments, non-governmental organizations and media don’t get everything right. But all of us must share a commitment to the facts and the pursuit of the truth. Distorting information, withholding the truth or promulgating falsehoods violates the public’s trust and denies its rightful opportunity to be engaged and informed. This is precisely why democratic societies require a free and fair press. In this respect, our profession is intertwined with journalism.

The Page Society declares its support for journalists and public relations professionals who fearlessly fight for the truth, bring facts to light and hold government, business and other institutions accountable.”

At a time when mendacity seems to permeate public communications, professionals in our field can be part of the problem or part of the solution. My thanks to the Arthur W. Page Society for providing such a durable forum to empower those of us who seek the higher road.

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