Ethics: No Longer Optional

One of the loves of my life is Bella Simmons. She’s my four-year-old granddaughter, and one of her favorite things is The Elf on the Shelf®. If you don’t know this delightful children’s book, it’s about how each child has an elf watching over his or her activities. The elf has a direct line to Santa Claus. Parents usually bring out the book, and even a little stuffed elf, about a month before Christmas, to remind little ones to be good.

Well, I think that’s a great analogy for the world we live in today as PR practitioners. Our clients, our bosses, our CEOs, our front-line representatives, our volunteers – everybody has an elf. Only they don’t report to Santa. They report to the world.

If the elf thinks you’ve done something offensive, dishonest, disrespectful, illegal, immoral, disgusting, or even just stupid or funny, it can be reported. And if other people think that report is interesting, it’s not around the world in 80 days, but 80 seconds.

That’s why PRSA’s Ethics Month is so important. It gives us a reason to stop and remind everyone in our organizations that ethical thinking is absolutely essential and required for success. According to a study* which PRSA board member Mark McClennan, APR, reported on, we are much more likely to make ethical decisions if we have time to think about the decision.

Instead of having to make every decision in a hurry, we can stop during ethics month to think theoretically and carefully about how we make decisions as representatives of our organization. As communicators and counselors, as stewards of reputation, we as PR professionals can take this opportunity to remind ourselves that ethics can be taught and nurtured.

Fortunately, as PRSA members, we have a well-thought-out Code of Ethics and a Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS). The resources available to us are beneficial in this annual effort to teach and nurture ethical behavior in a thoughtful, deliberate way.

You can develop scenarios that relate to your own field of endeavor to help your organizations discuss ethical quandaries that could affect you. Or you can take a look at ethics case studies provided by BEPS online at

Whatever activities you can incorporate into your organization’s September ethics education, you’ll be ahead of the game when your associates are called upon to be cool under fire.

As with many things in life, successful practice prepares us to continue to succeed. PRSA’s Ethics Month is a great catalyst to help you lead your organization in continued success.

As a BEPS member, I spoke recently to the Thoroughbred Chapter in Lexington, KY. Here’s what I recommended to them as required reading during this annual emphasis on ethics study.

Ethics in an Age of Social Media & Public Conversations by Deirdre Breakenridge

Training Your Ethical Mind by Mark McClennan, APR

*Making Ethical Decisions Under Pressure by Mark McClennan, APR

To learn more about the elf:

Bobbi Johnson Simmons, APR, PR Director, Arlington/Roe & Co., Member, PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards, Past President, PRSA Hoosier Chapter

Leave a Comment