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Leveraging Public Relations to foster Anti-Corruption Efforts

Evalyne Otieno, CIPR International committee member, reflects on PR's role in preventing corruption.

Recently, I had the privilege of engaging with professionals and experts in the governance and anti-corruption space. Like many technical teams, the experts presented insightful case studies backed by data and extensive research which was eye-opening. The case studies were even more interesting as it involved real scenarios of impactful collective action projects. While everyone nodded in approval and applaud for the exemplary work done globally, the public relations practitioner in me had questions on the many impactful stories the practitioners had within their grasp without even knowing it.

This experience brought me to the realization that public relations practitioners can be invaluable allies to compliance and governance experts. With a nose for news, PR experts can turn data, research and outcomes from anti-corruption initiatives into compelling narratives. Here’s how.

First, in implementing preventive anti-corruption measures, organizations are required to conduct public information campaigns on corruption prevention. PR and governance experts working together as allies can design and execute awareness campaigns to educate the public on the detrimental effects of corruption. This includes packaging information into messages that resonate with the audience. The campaigns can utilize various channels including new and traditional media channels to reach a broader audience. Over time, anti-corruption messaging is focused on the negative impacts of various forms of corruption. Techniques such as storytelling can be used to drive ‘positive campaigning’ (also known as ‘gain frames’) by demonstrating the gains made so far in the fight against corruption. The positive narrative driven by PR practitioners can motivate members of the public to continue reporting corruption incidences, demand transparency and accountability.

Secondly, an ethics, fraud and corruption crisis can grossly erode the trust of employees and stakeholder once it has occurred. Having a clear action plan outlining steps for working through the crisis can improve the chances of recovering. Senior Strategic Consultant Peter Davenport in his article 'The Post Office scandal: A study in how not to do crisis communications’ says, Crisis communications are never about concealment. PR helps mitigate the damage by taking responsibility and demonstrating the organization’s commitment to rectifying the situation and preventing future occurrences. Having a crisis communication plan can go a long way in minimizing business disruption. PR comes in handy by understanding public sentiment, facts about the issue and communicating in an honest and factual manner.  To rebuild trust, PR teams can design follow-up communication on the progress of anti-corruption measures and highlight tangible results achieved. This should not end here. Continuous engagement and collaboration with compliance teams, independent auditors and watchdogs can further enhance credibility.

Thirdly, compliance teams can leverage on PR to communicate and amplify anti-corruption efforts and milestones clearly. To ensure transparency, regular updates on anti-corruption initiatives, policy changes and enforcement actions can be disseminated through press releases, public media briefings and social media updates just to name a few.

Finally, PR can be a great ally for compliance teams in advocating for legal reforms. By mobilizing public support, generating media coverage, and lobbying decision-makers, PR can influence legislative agendas and promote the adoption of anti-corruption laws.

While the two professions may not always be on the same page, there’s more to gain from collaboration than to lose. However, having a clear understanding of each other’s objectives through consistent communication can build trust between the two teams allowing them to deliver for the organization. 

While legal frameworks and enforcement mechanisms are crucial, the role of public relations in supporting anti-corruption efforts is often underappreciated. PR strategies can significantly bolster anti-corruption efforts by shaping public opinion, raising awareness, fostering a culture of integrity, and managing crises effectively.


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