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Is being ethical difficult for today’s PR pro?

Is being ethical difficult for today’s PR pro?

[By Jason Mollica]

Whether it’s Wall Street or Main Street, ethical behavior is considered an important facet of what you do. For public relations professionals, it is absolutely paramount to have the trust of your clients, fellow colleagues, and your influencers – including the news media.  If you or the message you are trying get across isn’t trusted, the chances of being successful are very slim.

So, why is being honest and ethical seemingly hard to uphold in this day and age?  There’s a simple answer.  If there are others who have gotten away with it, why couldn’t I?  Do a simple Google search of “PR and Spin,” you will see millions of results expounding how PR pros are spin doctors. PR professionals are already labeled because of the dishonesty that has preceded those working in the industry today.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) has a Code of Ethics that members must uphold. There is actually an entire section on their website dedicated to ethics, including how to enforce the Code, as well as ethical standards advisories and building principles on core values.

These core values are to:

  • Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
  • Foster informed decision-making through open communication.
  • Protect confidential and private information.
  • Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest.
  • Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.

The month of September is set aside each year as “Ethics Awareness Month” for PRSA. During this time, the society highlights and stresses that protecting integrity and public trust are fundamental to a PR professional’s role and reputation. Successful public relations hinges on the ethics of its practitioners.

While it may seem somewhat intriguing that an industry relying on its professionals for honesty highlights just one month in a year to focus on ethics, this should not be viewed as an underestimation of its importance. Ethical practice is, by far, the most important obligation of a PR pro. When there have been examples of ethical failures by public relations practitioners, the industry is very quick to be critical. In fact, when firms, agencies, or individuals have been called out and proven to not be acting ethically, PRSA rightfully leads the charge.

That said, PRSA isn’t the only professional PR organization to have a Code of Ethics. The International Association of Business Communicators (IABC), the Council of PR Firms, and the Arthur Page Society all have codes.

As we continue to show clients, colleagues, and those unfamiliar with true PR practitioners and educators that we are truly ethical, the few that sully our reputations will continue to be the ones that people believe represent our industry. Stronger ethics education and outreach to all PR practitioners, as well as the public, would be a great way to uphold what we proudly stand for in our work.

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