Half of the truth
Truong Nam Phuong – s3394158
As a student in Communication major and future PR practitioner as I hope, ethical issues are always one of my major concerns. However, I find it really difficult and complicated to apply ethical theory on practical PR, especially in Vietnam context. Therefore, I come to Mr. Hoang Hoa, a really well-experienced PR practitioner from a well-known and reputable agency in Vietnam, Ogilvy Vietnam (Glass door, n.d.). In this interview, he shares with me his opinion towards this topic, his experience throughout 7 years in the industry and an example case study which I find quite typical.
Figure 1. Proof of life (taken by author)
Theory vs. Practice
At first, he listens about my concern, about how we, as students in Communication major, have always been lead to be completely ethical in real life career. Just as I read in an article of PRSA (Gombita, J 2013), generally, a PR practitioner is required to always be responsible, honest and accurate in all communication, act for the best interest of the public, always present fully truthful information, protect confidential and private information, and avoid conflicts of interest. However, it is so difficult to always be completely ethical like that and even if it is possible, is it worth?
He thinks about my question for a while, and then he responds firstly that being ethical is surely worth. PR is the service of trust, built on trust and to gain trust. However, it is really complicated in practice.
Specifically in Vietnam context, with 7 years working in the industry, he thinks that ethical issues have been underestimated in Vietnam. The reasons are the public in Vietnam tend not to care a lot, what they care most is the price and then the quality of the service or products they receive; therefore, when the public do not care, client do not want to seriously put effort in and as a result, PR agency do not feel it is a need to be completely ethical. He shows me the article of Professor Phan Thanh Lân (n.d.), who has the same opinion that ethical issues in Vietnam have been outweighed by profits and interests.
The case study from Vinamilk
To clarify his point, he gives me a case study from Vinamilk. Vinamilk has been known as one of the biggest milk company in Vietnam with great trust from consumers (VTC news, 2010). Vinamilk has been marketed its products as 100% fresh milk, implying that most products from Vinamilk are all fresh milk from high quality cows. However, the fact is that about 70% of its products are ‘sterilized reconstituted milk’ (Dairy Vietnam). And instead of being completely honest with the public, PR representatives of Vinamilk are required keep this information from them. So what did they do? Being ethical, honest, deliver fully truthful information but to displease the client Vinamilk, or satisfy the client but against the ethical requirement of PR practitioners?
The decision of the PR is between the lines, telling ‘half of the truth’. They support Vinamilk to use confusing names such as UHT milk and pasteurized milk, which are not lies but Vietnamese consumers generally do not understand fully their meanings. Frankly, it is not a serious damage problem since sterilized reconstituted milk is also good for health. The problem here is Vietnamese consumers prefer to think that they are consuming real fresh milk and that can raise the profits of the client Vinamilk and satisfy them; therefore, even when the truth is not horrible, the PR agency still decides to follow the client, telling ‘half of truth’.
When I ask Hoa whether he thinks the PR agency of client is right or wrong, he tells me: ’Half of a bread is a bread, but half of the truth is not the truth.’
Word count: 630
Dairy Vietnam, ‘Định nghĩa về các loại sữa’, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://www.dairyvietnam.com/vn/Dinh-nghia-va-phan-loai-sua-274.html>.
VTC news 2010, ‘Vinamilk – DN Việt Nam đầu tiên được Forbes vinh danh’, VTC news, 14 December, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://m.vtc.vn/488-272027/dinh-duong-va-suc-khoe/vinamilk-dn-viet-nam-dau-tien-duoc-forbes-vinh-danh.htm>.
Phan Thanh Lân n.d., ‘Đạo đức kinh doanh trong cơ chế thị trường VN’, Trường Chính Trị tỉnh Bà Rịa-Vũng Tàu, viewed 10 January 2013, <http://truongchinhtribrvt.edu.vn/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=826:o-c-kinh-doanh-trong-c-ch-th-trng-vn&catid=67:hi-tho-ta-am-kh&Itemid=142>.
Gombita, J 2013, ‘There’s No Spinning It Differently: Ethics in Public Relations Takes Ongoing Work’, PRSAY, 12 September, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://prsay.prsa.org/index.php/2013/09/12/theres-no-spinning-it-differently-ethics-in-public-relations-takes-ongoing-work/>.
Glass door n.d, ‘Ogilvy Public Relations Reviews’, Glass door, viewed 10 January 2014, <http://www.glassdoor.com/Reviews/Ogilvy-Public-Relations-Reviews-E13678.htm>.