Ethics: Not Just a Policy

Share this!

To paraphrase a friend of mine “Ethics should not just be a policy. It must be a reality.”

Ethics is central to effective public relations. It is core to our daily activities. Yet everyday some PR professional, somewhere is being asked to do something unethical. It’s not always the case of lying, sometimes it is the seemingly minor lapse….Do we really need to disclose that publicly? There is nothing forbidding us doing [X]. Our competitors are doing it and if we don’t we will be at a disadvantage.

That compromise for short term gain invariably will have long term repercussions. Our job is to provide counsel to the organizations we serve to do the right thing, no matter how uncomfortable or how unpopular the counsel may be. I wrote a few years ago about training your ethical mind and the lessons still hold true today. If anything, with consumers expecting radical transparency, they are even more relevant.

The willingness to take the unpopular stand for our organizations is one of the reasons we honored Paula Pedene as PR Professional of the Year. It’s why we have ethics month every year and why we created the PRSA ethics app. It’s why every member of PRSA pledges to adhere to the code of Ethics.

This month PRSA is going to hosting a number of Webinars and blog posts. I encourage you to check them out:

  • #Prethics
  • Supporting Ethical Journalism – Sept. 15, time TBD
  • Social Media & Ethics: Common Pitfalls & How to Avoid Them – Sept. 21, 9 p.m. EST
  • Let’s Talk Ethics! Best Practices for Ethics Curriculum in PR – Sept. 22, 8 p.m. EST
  • Ethics, the Heart of Public Relations #PRStudChat – Sept. 13, 8 p.m. EST
  • Millennial Ethics:  Workplace dilemmas and scenarios – Sept. 14, 8 p.m. EST
  • Let’s talk Ethics! Best practices for Ethics Curriculum in Public Relations – Sept. 20, 8 p.m. EST

But keep in mind if we limit ethical discussions to just September, we will be doing our teams, our employees, our agencies and our organizations a disservice. If you see an ethical issue, carve out time in your team meetings to discuss it and get people’s thoughts.

Remember, as a PRSA member, if you face an ethical issue, you are not alone. Most PRSA Chapters have an ethics officer. PRSA also has a Board of Ethics and Professional Standards that can help (

In the interest of starting a discussion. Are there ethical issues you would like to see PRSA address in an Ethics Standards Advisory? How can we help you?

By continuing this discussion throughout the year we can help our organizations and society while striving for the highest.

Mark W. McClennan, APR, PRSA 2016 National Board Chair has been stationed at MSLGROUP for more than 20 years, where he has led teams in a variety of industries including consumer technology and healthcare technology. His teams throughout the years have been recognized with more than 45 awards for excellence in public relations, including five Silver Anvils. Follow Mark on Twitter.

About the author

Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA

Leave a Comment