Ethics Inside the Profession

Ethics Month 2014: Authenticity Is Key


Editor’s note: As we celebrate Ethics Month this September, PRSA invited members of the Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS) to provide their views and thoughts on the pressing ethical issues affecting the PR industry. Track the series and join the discussion by using the hashtag #PREthics. For a full list of Ethics Month activities visit the 2014 Ethics Month section of the PRSA site.


As we launch PRSA’s annual Ethics Month, we public relations professionals finds ourselves right in the middle of a world in which people have less trust than ever in the institutions and organizations we serve. The 2014 Edelman Global Trust Barometer found trust in government in the United States still dropping at 37%, and trust in business stable at 58%, with an historic 21-point gap between the two. Many other surveys regularly report similar results of declining confidence in news media, government, and business leaders.

That’s the challenging environment members of PRSA’s Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS) faced as we began planning Ethics Month 2014: How can we help PR professionals lead their organizations and their clients in earning new trust and rebuilding confidence from their publics?

We started with the PRSA definition of public relations and the PRSA Code of Ethics. If we’re about building “mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” we acknowledge such relationships must be founded upon mutual trust. The fundamental values of our Code of Ethics – honesty, advocacy, expertise, loyalty, and fairness – are powerful tools for earning trust. Those values apply equally to all organizations, all situations, and all media.

No wonder my friend and BEPS colleague Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, wrote early this year in a PRSAY post, “Ethical communication, in my mind, means providing those publics who rely on me and my organization to tell, as the saying goes, ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.’”

Think of those basic values as a list of possible ingredients for an effective public relations practice. If you could offer your practice in a box, with your ingredients list available for clients and employers to inspect, what would they think? Keep in mind – they’re looking for the real thing, for a new authenticity they can believe in.

How does your list measure up?

Ethics Month 2014 at a glance:

September is the launch month of PRSA’s newest Ethical Standards Advisory, Native Advertising & Sponsored Content. You can find the new ESA, addressing an important disclosure issue, in the special Ethics Month section on

The September issue of Tactics is chock full of good ethics articles.

Look for blog posts on ethics topics every few days here on PRSAY.

BEPS has provided chapter Ethics Officers and other leaders with new resources for Ethics Month programs and activities. Several BEPS members will make presentations at chapters around the country.

There will be several social media chats throughout the month, including Tweet Chats and Google + Hangout.  See the calendar in the Ethics Month pages of And look for “Ethics – the Silken Trap,” a free webinar at 3 p.m. EDT, Sept. 25.


George L. Johnson, APR, Fellow PRSA, serves as BEPS chair. After 40 years in corporate public relations, he’s an adjunct instructor in public relations at the University of South Carolina. George joined PRSA in 1978.


About the author

George L. Johnson, APR, Fellow PRSA

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