A look inside the discussion from the ethics course, PRSA International Conference

By Paula L. Pedene APR, Fellow PRSA

Ethics concerns an individual’s moral judgements about right and wrong and the decision to behave morally.  In our role as public relations practitioners, we can be on the forefront of providing ethical information and guidelines for employees who often must decide what they think is the right course of action. But how can we help employees make that decision if we are left in a leaderless void?  A recent PRSA and Arthur Page Society Ethics Survey, reveals one of the top concerns PR practitioners face, as both educators and practitioners, is a lack of access to leadership and information.  In fact, respondents cited it as the third most challenging issue facing public relations practitioners today.

Let’s take a moment then to see what we can do to help manage this issue.  As the course instructors shared, if you follow the common ethical principles of PR, it can help you drive the culture in your organization.  This often means demonstrating ethics principles when you have management’s ear and following through on these principles in your work including:

  • Acting in the public interest – Finding the greater good for most people
  • Using honesty and integrity as your guide
  • Ensuring accuracy and truth – Do not disseminate false or misleading information
  • Leave proprietary information behind when you change jobs
  • Accurately defining what PR strategies/tactics can accomplish – Don’t guarantee beyond what’s in your control
  • Maintaining integrity of communication channels
  • Safeguarding confidences

    Image courtesy of Christian College Guide

    Image courtesy of Christian College Guide

  • Not damaging the reputation of others
  • Avoiding conflicts of interest

The survey shares another key finding; “PR practitioners who earn the Accreditation in Public Relations (APRs) are more likely to say they feel prepared to offer ethics counsel more than practitioners who are not accredited.” In earning both the APR and Fellows distinction, I’ve learned how to refine and hone these principles because I have found value in my practice in doing so.

Evolving the public relations function from communicator to strategist and ethics counselor is an important part of our practice.  It’s also why I’m hesitant to embrace the title “Communications” as part of my mantra.  I believe our role as a public relations practitioner is much broader than a tactic.  By sharing our thoughts using words like “From a public relations point of view…. “allows us the ability to share an ethics principle at a time when leaders may most often need to hear it.

Perhaps one of the best quotes on the matter comes from author and speaker Colleen Patrick-Goodreau, “What’s the point of having beliefs and values if we don’t stand up for the former and live by the latter?”

So, here’s the question, what are you doing to be ready to provide ethics counsel?

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