Oral Histories

Emmanuel Tchividjian

Interview Segments on Topic: PR and Technology/Change

Emmanuel Tchividjian Biography

Emmanuel Tchividjian serves as the Executive Director, Ethics Consulting Practice for Ruder-Finn, the only PR agency with an ethics officer, ethics committee and regular ethics meetings to which all staff are invited. Tchividjian has been with the company since 1997. Prior to joining Ruder-Finn, he worked for the Government of Switzerland and in particular, was tasked with researching and telling that country's account on issues relating to WWII and the Holocaust.

Mr. Tchividjian is a Certified Compliance & Ethics Professional from the Society of Corporate Compliance and Ethics (SCCE) and a member of the Ethics & Compliance Officers Association, (ECOA) the national professional association for managers of ethics and compliance programs. He is the Ethics Officer of the New York Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America as well as a member (ex-officio) of the National Board of Ethics and Professional Standards. He is also a member of the Swiss-American and French-American Chambers of Commerce.


Interviewer: So what do you see as the influences of media on contemporary ethical decision making in public relations? What role does the media play in the way that public relations is making decisions?

Tchividjian: Are you talking about new media or media in general?

Interviewer: Actually that’s the question I was going to ask you, it was about new media, so you could tell me about traditional media and then maybe go to new media or if you want to answer that together, you’re welcome to.

Tchividjian: The new media brings a new element, but of course in public relations you deal with the media, not always; people sometimes confuse public relations with publicity, then you go in a wider range than public relations is. For me, public relations is; a public relations executive is someone who is an advisor/counselor in communications. So it can be for a CEO, writing a speech, or going to talk to the shareholders. It doesn’t always involve the press. It can be internal communication, but it involves the press very often, especially for a commercial client. So ethics and the media is the same thing. You have to build trust with journalists. You have the interest of your client to defend but you have your own reputation at stake. So you have to make sure there’s a correct balance—you have to make sure you’re comfortable doing what you do. Someone said never do anything that don’t want [to be] published on the front page of the next morning’s newspaper or don’t write an email that you would be embarrassed to read in court. You have to know that these things last.

I had one experience where we had a problem with a client. It was going to be news and I knew the story. We had done nothing wrong, but there had to be some explanations, so I talked to David Finn and the executive committee and they allowed me to speak freely to one journalist that trusted me. So I told her the story first and she wrote a wonderful front-page article for the press with the exact truth of what had happened. This would not have happened unless she had trusted me and I trusted her. I had to trust her too because she could take my words and turn them around and say different things. I’ve been on FOX [News]—they called—I gave an interview in the letter and I saw how the media can mislead you, can take the quote, put it in another context to give a totally different story. So there’s also some unethical behavior among the media as well, especially when they already have a point of view and they’re just trying to get something that’s said to reinforce that view.

Interviewer: So let’s talk about new media a little bit. Has new media, including the Internet and social media made the public relations industry more or less ethical? Has there been an influence? Are journalists still the watchdogs of business and how will technology influence the public relations industry in years to come? Three questions in one; yes. We can start with has new media, including the Internet and social media made public relations more or less ethical?

Tchividjian: I don’t think you can be more or less ethical. I think you have to have a basic concern. Ethics is trying to do the best you can with information you have and with your values. I think most people think they’re ethical and I think most people want to be ethical, but yet things happen because of lack of reflection, lack of sharing with others and looking at other people’s experience and because of speed. You have to do something about right away, somehow you have a feeling it’s just not right, but you ignore it and go ahead; oh my god.

Interviewer: Do you think that the Internet and social media made public relations more or less ethical? Is there an influence?

Tchividjian: I think people realize that the speed at which things are done with the new media and also the scope of the coverage of what you are going to do has made people slowly, but surely, more aware of the dangers of ethical lapses.

Interviewer: Some people say that there’s more transparency in social media; that organizations are required to be more transparent because there are a lot of people that can participate in the conversation.

Tchividjian: Absolutely, because the public has multiplied in numbers and the exposure is so much increased that the visibility is greater, so of course there is more scrutiny.

Interviewer: So do you think that journalists are still the watchdogs of business or have people become the watchdogs through social media?

Tchividjian: I guess it depends on journalists; some are not really watchdogs, they’re just interested in business or have personal agendas. It’s a great role to have. I hope many stay that way. But the fact that the public can become journalists in themselves with blogs probably diminishes some of that role.

Interviewer: How do you think technology will influence the public relations industry in years to come? Do you think social media is here to stay or is this another fad?

Tchividjian: I think it’s here to stay and it will grow. What’s next new I’m not sure, but I’m sure it’s in the same direction.