Ethical advertising.

Wait…is that an oxymoron?

While you’re chewing on that one, let me give you another expression to think about…

Friendly competition.

Again, is that an oxymoron?

Do the two concepts conveyed in both of these two-word expressions mix about as well as oil and water? Should they mix? Can they?

After years of experiences in business, dealing with sister midwives/competitors, after countless hours of research, I wanted to write on this subject. However, after a few days of effort, it dawned on me that I have material enough for several articles, and perhaps a course for a workshop. I realized that my first draft was too long, and I wasn’t even halfway done.

So, I needed to re-write, and this article is that re-write. Here I intend to lay the groundwork. The purpose of this article is to establish some foundational principles. Specifically, principles pertaining to ethical practices in advertising, principles pertaining to engaging in business competition that is effective yet fair, and friendly, not cutthroat.

In short, it can all be summed up in a single sentence, and a famous sentence, at that. It is so famous, in fact, it has its own designation. This single sentence/principle is known as The Golden Rule:

“And just as you want men to do to you, you also do to them likewise.”The Golden Rule

These are the words of Jesus of Nazareth. The quote is taken from the New King James Version of the Gospel of Luke, chapter six, verse 31. Jesus said this more than once. A longer version of the statement is found in Matthew’s Gospel (7:12):

“Therefore, whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.”

In this form of the statement, Jesus acknowledged that this teaching was much older, that it was found in “the Law and the Prophets,” which is to say, the Hebrew Scriptures. From our point of reference, then, that means that this teaching is something like 3,400 years old.

Don’t worry, I haven’t blindsided you; this isn’t an article about the Christian faith. It’s just that, in simple terms, The Golden Rule works. It is a valid principle, a principle that has stood the test of time and is widely recognized, not only in the realm of faith, but also in secular philosophy and, yes, in business ethics and advertising. So let’s apply this maxim in that context.

I can’t speak to other types of business, but I can apply The Golden Rule to the business of midwifery, and that’s what this paper is about. Applied to ethical considerations in advertising, this principle boils down to truthfulness, integrity and treating my clients, potential clients and my peers with respect.

What does that look like regarding my clients and potential clients? Well, for one thing, I need to be honest about my statistics: the number of births I have done, the number of transports to the hospital, etc. This is easy for me to do now. After fourteen years of delivering babies in Corpus Christi and South Texas, my numbers reflect my training and my experience.

Starting out, though, that wasn’t so easy to do. I was a fully trained and licensed midwife, but I was new. How should this situation have been handled? Well, I just had to bite my lip and tell the truth, to honestly disclose my numbers when asked. Lying about or padding my statistics would have been disrespecting my potential clients by deceiving them.

By telling the truth, I might have risked losing a potential client, but then I didn’t have to worry about a lie coming back to haunt me. And most people realize that we all have to start at the beginning, whether your field of endeavor is gynecology, dentistry or architecture. So generally speaking, this tends to work out. It certainly did for me.

Closely related to this, an honest disclosure also means not resorting to half truths. For example, it might be essentially true to say, “I have a 100% VBAC success rate” if you’ve only done one VBAC (Vaginal Birth After Caesarean). But unless you say, “I’ve only done one VBAC,” you aren’t telling the whole story, and you are misleading the potential client.

Resisting the temptation to mislead or outright deceive also involves one’s credentials. The general populace is likely to be easily confused on this matter. I am a Licensed Midwife (LM) and a Certified Professional Midwife (CPM). And there is another kind of midwife known as a Certified Nurse Midwife (CNM), who is certified by the American College of Nurse-Midwives. The credentials can be confusing, especially when you consider the fact that a person can have nursing credentials and midwife credentials without being a CNM.

There is also a hierarchy within nursing credentials that can be confusing to the public. For example the Licensed Vocational Nurse (LVN) does not have as much training, nor is she allowed to do as much as a Registered Nurse (RN).

Texas law prohibits any identification statement that is false, misleading, or deceptive. It also prevents any midwife from using the term “nurse-midwife” unless she is a CNM. So if a CPM says to a potential client “I am a nurse and I am a midwife”, without clarification, her statement would be misleading because it could easily be construed as claiming to be a “nurse-midwife.”

Okay, as far as applying The Golden Rule principle to midwifery peers, to friendly competition, in other words, I have a few examples, working from the negative to the positive.

Be careful about your use of ad placement, meta-tags and keywords. Any attempt to use a competitor’s name or company name just to increase traffic to your website or gain business is considered stealing or hijacking traffic from your competitor. This is unethical and illegal. There is even a term for it. It’s called “meta-jacking.”

Likewise, do not use meta-tags or keywords that do not truthfully represent what you do. The nurse-midwife example comes to mind again. Since Texas law is specific that midwives should not claim to be nurse-midwives without the credentials, you could possibly be setting yourself up for a lawsuit or complaint if you deliberately place key words like “nurse-midwife” in your meta-tags or key words just to draw people to your website. That would be considered deliberately misleading to the public.

Do not slander your competitors. Sometimes this might be tempting because you might know or think you know something about them that isn’t good. But if you aren’t willing to go through proper channels to report them, you should not use what you know just to make yourself look better. To do so could be considered slanderous and most people would probably see through your intentions if you are only trying to make yourself look better by tearing another person down.

Respect boundaries. We certainly don’t own our clients. They are not our possessions; they make their own decisions. Even so, we should be very careful how we interact with another midwife’s clients. We should do everything possible to avoid taking a client from another midwife. Clients may choose to change midwives, and of course that is their right. But here too, do The Golden Rule. Discuss this with the woman to see if there is a valid concern, and encourage her to talk to her midwife, either to work things out or to explain her decision. In this way, you are treating your competitor, a sister midwife, the way you yourself want to be treated.

Well, believe it or not, this is the short version of what I started writing a few days ago. Like I said, this comes from years of experience as well as the experiences of other seasoned midwifes, and from extensive research. Look for more articles to come on social networking and advertising.