Internet Marketing

The marketer's code of ethics

Marketing can save the world. Or it can sit there like a turd you throw on businesses, hoping it’s fertilizer.

I think it’s up to us which way our industry goes. So, I started work on this code of ethics:

The code of ethics

  1. What I do affects businesses. It affects the jobs, lives and lifestyles of people in those businesses. I will always respect that.
  2. What I do can change public perception of ideas, products and people. I will always respect that, too.
  3. I will continuously improve my marketing skills. There’s always more to learn.
  4. I will use those skills to connect people to real value—the products and ideas that they need and want.
  5. I will never advise clients about areas of marketing I don’t truly understand.
  6. I will always tell clients the truth, even if that gets a little uncomfortable.
  7. I won’t work with clients who are deliberately deceiving their audience.
  8. I won’t work with clients who are breaking the law.
  9. I won’t steal. ‘Stealing’ includes theft of intellectual property (plagiarism, piracy and just plain cheating) and theft of real property.
  10. I won’t sell or market stuff that doesn’t exist, or that isn’t mine.
  11. I will always provide sound advice in the best interests of my clients’ long-term plans, unless doing so violates other parts of this code.
  12. I will help clients become smart consumers of marketing services, even as I work for them.
  13. ‘Stealing’ also includes charging clients for my expertise when I’m not an expert.
  14. I got here, in part, because other people gave advice, learning and time. I’ll do the same.
  15. What I do is my entire career. But it’s one tiny slice of my clients’ day-to-day work. I’ll be mindful of that.
  16. How well I follow this code impacts my entire profession, and people’s trust in media, communications and brands.

Sign here

If you agree with this code, and want to see others follow it, tweet it. Post it to Facebook. E-mail it. Hell, put it on your own site (with citation, of course).

If you hate this and want something else, go for it. The discussion is as important as the result.

CEO & Founder

Ian Lurie is CEO and founder of Portent and the EVP of Marketing Services at Clearlink. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). He's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Follow him on Twitter at portentint, and on LinkedIn at

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  1. Awesome, I totally agree, at our office we have 5 core values that sort of cover this.
    1) The goal at all times is to increase client business (not our own)
    2) “Honest feedback” – If you don’t have your business sorted, or your website is awful, we’ll tell you, and only work with you if we know we can get results.
    3) Play nice with others – specifically other agencies
    4) Treat client’s money as if it were our own, and be careful about how we spend it. Always advise clients against decisions that won’t give them results, or has the potential to negatively impact their business.
    5) Kaizen – the japanese concept of continuous improvement – Improve what we know and how we work, and help our clients improve as well.

  2. Ian,
    This is GREAT! I’m so tired of all the self proclaimed experts – who know little/if anything. If more marketers focused on what they know, helping others learn and sticking to the very points you call-out, clients would be better served.

  3. Fantastic Stuff, thinking of adding it to my website (with attribution of course).
    I must admit that I was guilty of #5 early in my consulting career.
    I discovered that when I started saying “No” to potential clients in areas where I wasn’t an expert but merely knew more than them and started to focus on my true expertise; not only was I happier, my rates climbed steadily also.

  4. Ian: As you are no expert on ethics, just a marketer you should abide by “I will never advise clients about areas of marketing I don’t truly understand.”
    So you see this doesn’t work in real life. It’s your obligation to point out issues even in those areas you’re not an expert in once you notice them. I always advise my clients on UX, CRO etc. even though my focus of expertise is blogging, social media and search because most sites really fail at UX, CRO. Also I’m learning all the time so one day I will be an expert in these matters due to ongoing practice.

    1. Actually, technically I think I’m the anti-expert – I have a law degree.
      I think that ‘truly understand’ is pretty relative, unfortunately. To you and I it means “I’m a total expert” but I’ll bet you give totally sound advice when talking about UX. My beef is with folks who are still out there counseling large-scale link purchases and deceptive PPC ads, or spending thousands of dollars of their clients’ money on Adwords without knowing what a negative keyword is.

      1. Good point, Kevin. But I don’t necessarily think ethics are a skill. They’re part of how you approach your day-to-day work and life.
        That said, I’m not trying to say these are the be-all and end-all. I’m hoping to prompt a discussion. People do NOT take our profession seriously, particularly on the digital side. That’s partly due to a lot of smarmy practices. I’m just hoping we can improve the image of our industry.

  5. Numbers 5-8 really got me thinking. I’ve spoken to colleagues who have turned down clients in certain industries because they felt uncomfortable with the industry or the client. Just as we need to be honest with our clients, they need to be honest with us.
    As for the other part of this discussion–whether you are qualified to remark on ethics, Ian–I think it’s perfectly acceptable to come up with your own code of ethics based on your own observations. It’s just another set of best practices. Thanks for sharing.

  6. I think it is a comprehensive and accurate code of ethics. Marketing is important and should be done with originality and a conscientious attitude as people do depend on it for their livelihood. That also means choosing clients carefully to ensure they have good ethics, too.

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