Oral Histories

Emmanuel Tchividjian

Interview Segments on Topic: Trust/Credibility

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: Let’s talk a little bit about ethics then. I’d like to spend a few minutes talking about ethical public relations since that’s your area of expertise. In your professional opinion what constitutes ethical public relations? What is that?

Tchividjian: I think ethics is essentially an issue of values. As I mentioned yesterday, there are different types of situations: you have the right versus wrong, and that situation very often is a more legal one than an ethical one. Everybody knows that stealing is unethical; it’s also illegal. Then you have situations of right versus right when you have conflicting values, conflicts of legitimate values. That’s where it gets very, very interesting. Then you have wrong versus wrong. That’s in the medical field where you have a problem and there’s no perfect solution and you try to take the best solution or the least harmful solution.

In public relations and in communication—communication involves everything we do—unless there is trust, the value of the exchange is very, very low. Trust is essential in any exchange and any communication. So in PR, whether it’s with journalists; whether it’s with clients; whether it’s with government; whether it’s with the media, having that trust is the most important thing. Once you lose it, it’s almost lost forever. It’s very rare to regain trust once you’ve lost it. So that is really a guideline for everything we do. It may sound like expedient at the time, at the moment, but the consequences can be devastating. You have clients come and go, but the relationship with the media will stay. Once you mislead a journalist, you will never have his trust again.

Interviewer: You talk about trust being the key. How can an organization or agency build trust? How can it maintain trust in an ethical way with the media and with the public? What are some of the ways they can do that?

Tchividjian: Well, being truthful, being open, being transparent, being able to say when you don’t have the answer or when you can’t deliver the answer, being able to say it. This is confidential; I’m not allowed to tell you. Of course, never lying, and then reputation is—you build reputation—it can take a lifetime to build and a few minutes to lose. I think the reaction, also—because things happen; we make mistakes; we all know that. The reaction to the mistakes you make also is essential in keeping that trust. People accept that you make mistakes; we all make mistakes. People will forgive you for mistakes, but they would be much harder to forgive if you try to cover it up, lie, or blame someone else. That’s harder to forgive. I have this great illustration of a woman doing her nails with nail polish and by accident a drop of polish went into her daughter’s eye. That was the accident, and the reaction to the accident was to take some solvent and try to remove it. It destroyed the girl’s eye. So sometimes in panic we do some very, very stupid things. The real damage is done in our reaction to the mistake. I think Richard Nixon is a good example. He didn’t know about Watergate when it happened, but once he knew it, he did everything wrong, trying to cover up.