We’re settling comfortably into summer mode now, with minds on cruise-control and thoughts focused on relaxing and letting our cares and worries fend for themselves for a while. And that’s fine…everyone deserves some downtime, especially public relations professionals who tend to be “on” 24/7.
But there’s one aspect of public relations that doesn’t get to take time off…ethical practice and behavior.
Ethical considerations are with us constantly…when we wake in the morning, and when we finally fall asleep at night. There are no vacations for ethics.
When you consider that the ancient Greeks are credited with spawning the concept with the word “ethos,” “the distinguishing character, sentiment, moral nature, or guiding beliefs of a person, group, or institution” (Merriam-Webster), ethics truly has long been part and parcel of civilized thought and action.
We all need reminders, though, to help us keep on track, and the Public Relations Society of America has ethics education as one of its top priorities. Not only does PRSA have a vibrant and constantly-reviewed Code of Ethics; the Society dedicates one month each year to a massive online and in-person series of programs, blog posts and articles reminding its members…and nonmembers…of the importance of ethical public relations practice.
In addition, PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards works year-round with local chapters as well as with individual members when requested to offer guidance on member education and outreach and to monitor media perceptions to ensure that ethical guidelines are adhered to and reported accurately.
Why this ongoing activity? The simple answer is “look around you.”
Sadly, it’s not difficult even in the 21st century to spot examples of, at best, questionable business practices…at worst, flagrant actions that make even the most laissez-faire of us scratch our heads in amazement.
As I tell my students at Curry College, “stuff happens, and you need to be aware of the possible consequences.” I’m not advocating an ethical militia out patrolling the business landscape in search of violators of PRSA’s Code of Ethics. But I am encouraging active awareness and willingness to speak up when you observe what you believe to be an unethical action on behalf of or recommendation to a client or employer.
Ethical thought and action isn’t an on-again/off-again “nice to know” aspect of a public relations professional’s existence. It is an all-encompassing, never-ending responsibility that serves as a sign to others of the realities of our field.
Ethics should occupy a key position in everyone’s repertoire of knowledge, skills and abilities. It should be top-of-mind in our day-to-day activities. Regardless of where we are or what we are doing, ethical practice and behavior should always be at the forefront.
After all…ethics doesn’t take vacations.