Ethics and Our Society

By Chris Lynch, APR, Fellow PRSA

Falls Communications and PRSA Cleveland Programming Chair

According to the recent 2017 eKG Survey by PRSA of its 21,000 membership of public relations and communications professional practitioners, the most important value that PRSA provides is our Society’s Code of Ethics.

The Ethics Code also ranked number one in the survey’s competitive index, which in essence, said it was the most important feature our members tell other practitioners as the reason they joined or would recommend PRSA to other professionals.

Recently two articles by major U.S. media outlets lumped non-ethical PR practices onto the usual, all-encompassing reporting that eluded those in our profession are practically nothing more than “spin doctors or glorified snake oil salesmen” … yes, really still … by the same fourth estate scribes that turn around the next day begging us for story background and content.

Fortunately, PRSA National in New York keeps its finger on the pulse of these musings, and has – as usual – been right on top of these media misperceptions. You may have seen this in last week’s PRSA correspondence to members (I know, oftentimes there is so much email from the Mother Ship, we don’t see the important things), but to reiterate:

Our 2018 PRSA Chair, Anthony D’Angelo, APR, Fellow PRSA responded immediately through advocacy with two significant Letters to the Editor correcting the misperception of our industry and its practitioners.

One, when the Los Angeles Times’ February 2 Los Angeles Times op-ed by Virginia Heffernan was critical of White House Director of Communications, Hope Hicks, and her qualifications for the job, which is perhaps to be expected given that Hicks is a public figure who works for a controversial president. What was both unexpected and unacceptable was Heffernan’s broad criticism of public relations professionals, as she described PR’s “moral flexibility, callousness and charm,” and claimed “lying to the media is traditionally called PR.” Here is PRSA’s response.

The other came the following week when, the demise of the British agency Bell Pottinger (which described itself as a public relations firm), appeared in a story describing its actions on page one of Monday’s New York Times. In fairness, PRSA agrees writer David Segal did a masterful job detailing the firm’s unethical behavior, expulsion from the U.K. Public Relations and Communications Association, and its loss of all clients. However, per D’Angelo’s note to Society members, “I don’t fault The New York Times for covering the story — it’s important. But as chair of the Society that represents the ethical practice of public relations, I was compelled to write a letter to the editor stressing that what Bell Pottinger did is definitely #NotOurPR.”

I was fortunate enough to serve with Tony when I was on the National Board of Directors for PRSA.  It’s nice to see he’s still active, and still has our backs. As he said on the topic of Ethics: “By subscribing to and promoting our Code of Ethics in public relations, which is the right thing to do, is ultimately best for business as well as our industry and all the publics we serve.

 

Public Relations Society of America, Greater Cleveland Chapter