Tag Archives: ethics

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.


Trust Your Gut: Everyday Ethical Decisions

By Rachel Burns, PRSA Cleveland New Pros Chair

Earlier this month, Young Pros of PRSA’s Greater Cleveland Chapter had an engaging dialogue with a panel of PR professionals, Lorraine Schuchart, APR, founder and CEO of Prosper for Purpose and Holly Mueller, owner and Chief Communications Officer of Holly M Communications, at a recent PRSA event, “Trust Your Gut: Everyday Ethical Decisions”. As the title of the event hints at, the topic of conversation was ethics and expanded from everyday ethics, to crisis ethics, to graphic design ethics and much more.

“Ethics are part of an organization and start from the top down. You’re judged by the company you keep,” said Schuchart. “Employees of Prosper for Purpose sign the PRSA Code of Ethics as a term of their employment.”

The PRSA Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS) – with the support of the Arthur W. Page Center – recently published the second of three studies related to public relations practitioners’ roles and responsibilities to provide ethics counsel. However, the study also found that most millennial practitioners indicated that they did not feel prepared and are unlikely to offer ethics counsel. Making this a perfect environment to discuss real-life ethical scenarios for young pros.

“We’re hired to be an advisory role. Be confident,” said Mueller. “We’re not the bad guys, we’re finding all the facts and putting it together.”

How can young pros proactively implement or learn more about ethics? Here are a few key takeaways from the discussion:

  • Trust your gut. “If it feels icky, it probably is,” said Schuchart. Staying true to yourself and being transparent contribute to ethics.
  • Stay ahead of trends and technology. Ethics change and broaden based on the evolution of technology and other aspects of a business.
  • Talk to your company IT department. Learn from them about privacy and confidentiality. Understand the legal issues or implications around communications.
  • Identify or offer to create a social media policy. Research examples such as a response tree for complicated or larger organizations.
  • Be prepared for a crisis. Digital makes everything immediate. Encourage or help lead crisis communications exercises in advance and ensure your team has a plan of action.
  • Continue the conversation. Every professional deals with ethical decisions. Encourage your colleagues and peers to discuss the topic and share insights and thoughts with one another.

Remember: PRSA National has an established Code of Ethics available for you to reference and share at any time.

Upcoming events: The Cleveland Rocks Awards, PRSA Great Cleveland’s signature event, is on Tuesday, December 12, 2017 at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Additional ticket and event information can be found here.