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Ethical dilemmas in the PR world

Editor’s note: As we celebrate Public Relations Ethics Month this September, PRSA invited members of the Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS) to offer their views and thoughts on the ethical topics affecting the PR profession. Follow the blog series on PRSAY and join the national social media discussion by using the hashtag #PREthics. For a full list of Ethics Month activities visit the 2015 Ethics Month section of the PRSA site.

It may sound really strange to say this, but I’m really passionate about upholding ethical principles. Maybe it was because of what my parents taught me, or what I learned from my grandmother, a legal secretary, all those years ago. Without ethics, we as public relations pros cannot succeed.

Let’s be honest, even though PRSA has a Code of Ethics we are asked to uphold, we have seen plenty of instances of unethical behavior and practices. It puts a stain on our profession. Frankly, the spinner of truth moniker that goes around isn’t one of my favorites.

When I saw that September is Ethics Awareness Month for our society, it got me thinking. So, I went to Facebook and posted a short video with a question for my network.

What is the biggest ethical challenge we face as public relations professionals today?

After posting on Facebook, I also shared this on Twitter. I received some very good and honest answers from a cross-section of professionals. Deirdre Breakenridge (@dbreakenridge), CEO of Pure Performance Communications, said,

With technology increasing the speed of communication, along with an involved and connected public, we have to show more diligence with the information we share. In an age of social conversations, not taking the time to review the details of information carefully, checking and rechecking sources, and confirming the accuracy of our communication, will pose a tremendous challenge. As ethical communicators, what we share should not only be authentic, but also in the best interest of all parties involved. 

Nichole Kelly (@Nicole_Kelly), CEO of SME Digital, posted on Facebook, “I think it’s transparency. True authentic transparency vs. what’s in the best interest of shareholders and stock price.”

Nicole Spears, social media manager at Geben Communications, tweeted, “The largest ethical dilemma facing today’s PR: A lack of education surrounding our role in media.” What could we, as PR pros, do to help change that? Nicole added two things: Set clear expectations with clients and give, and thereby, earn the respect from the journalists we work with.

Megan Wagner, owner of MW MarCom, felt the largest ethical dilemma facing PR today is prioritizing our message’s truth over its connection power. While John Kageorge, Strategist for Vital Communications, said, “PR pros must not be afraid to deliver bad news to C-Suite colleagues.”

What do I think is the biggest ethical challenge we face as PR pros today? We are faced with a world that tries to one-up each other. We see others cheat, why can’t we do the same? It’s absolutely important that we maintain the integrity that comes with having the trust of our superiors, clients, and fellow colleagues. If we decide that bending the truth is better than upholding it, our field will find itself in shambles.

What say you? Tell PRSA what you believe is the biggest ethical challenge we face as pros? Post a video to Twitter or Facebook or even share your thoughts in a blog. Any chance we have to discuss ethics within our industry is a good one.  There’s no better time than right now.


Jason Mollica is the president of JRMComm, a strategic public relations and marketing consultancy. He combines knowledge of the broadcast news industry, traditional public relations expertise and today’s innovative social communications tools. Jason writing can be found on MarketwiredRagan.com as well as across PRSA’s network. You can also read more from Jason at his blog or follow him on Twitter (@JasMollica).

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