Lesson 2: Do The Right Thing

Lesson 2: Do The Right Thing

This column is part of a 2024 series celebrating learnings from NST’s 50 years in business.

I remember sitting at an NST retreat during the early 2000s when our ethics committee – a subset of 20-something NSTers – presented a draft ethics policy. From what I recall, it included principles like “do not lie,” “don’t steal,” and “do not misrepresent yourself.” It got shot down pretty quickly for including what some saw as painfully obvious principles.

The dominant perspective in the room – and one that continues today – was that our long-held value of “do the right thing” was an ethics policy enough and that most of us, intuitively, know right from wrong. For us, doing the right thing means not only avoiding obviously unethical behaviors but also acting with integrity, doing what you say you are going to do and delivering on your commitments. It also means doing the right thing when it comes to people, caring for one another, acting with kindness and respect, and giving back to our communities. These things are the backbone of NST and of the relationships we hold with our team and our clients.

The world is littered with companies of all stripes that do not share our commitment to doing what’s right and instead sought to make a quick buck, treated their people poorly or had values that were permeable. Opportunities to cut ethical corners are all around.

On more than one occasion, we’ve decided to part ways with accounts governed by those who do not operate in a manner we believe in. I remember one client – a nonprofit that by mission alone would sound noble – hired us to help them navigate a crisis. We typically approach these types of projects with caution and our moral compass was already in high gear, driven by an intuitive feeling that something wasn’t quite right. When we learned we were not being given the whole story, posing questions of whether we were on the wrong side of right, we ended the relationship without hesitation, leaving bills unpaid to us but allowing us to sleep peacefully.

On other occasions, we resigned accounts or chose not to take them when it was clear the client’s expectations were unrealistic and they were unwilling to compromise. While these examples illustrate big moments when we followed our values, doing the right thing is just as important in the day-to-day moments, such as how we account for our time, and how we implement new PR tactics and tools, like artificial intelligence, responsibly. We see ourselves not only as stewards of our clients’ dollars but also of their trust.

The “right thing” also means caring for our team and seeing them as people first. We’ve had team members face some pretty tough stuff, including physical illness and mental health challenges, loss of loved ones and personal battles that could naturally impact how they show up at work. How we support them during these days, and every day, is also a reflection of our commitment to doing what’s right.

Today, we still don’t have a formal ethics policy, but we hope that those who work with us see our commitment to the highest standards of ethical integrity on a daily basis. After all, the lasting power of NST is rooted in doing the right thing, without compromise, even when it’s difficult.

Check out the other blog posts in this series.