What Should You Do about Ethics Month?

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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.


Another PRSA September chapter program on ethics.  Did you go? Lots of people seem to stay away during September. Maybe it’s just a busy month with vacations over and school starting.

As a member of PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), I was invited to speak at the Orlando Chapter’s September meeting. The audience was very enthusiastic about ethics. Whether you attend a meeting or not, do the same thing I suggested to my new Orlando friends.

Stop and pay it forward.

Ask your own organizations – clients, employers or other group members beyond PRSA – to stop and engage in a conversation about how to enhance ethical behavior. Do it now, when the discussion is theoretical and not career-threatening.

Encourage Practice.

What new threats or thorny issues could confront your company in the coming year? Are you and your management team certain that every individual in your group knows how to handle the challenge? What activities might you engage in to exercise everyone’s ethical “chops?”

Scenarios that relate to your specific field of endeavor can help your organization discuss ethical quandaries that could affect you. 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.

Consider new issues, examples and information available.

Boost the currency of your own education. Take a few hours during September to create your own private webinar. Search for recent examples of unethical behavior and ethical commentary in both the general media and websites specific to your own industry. Check out industry-specific associations that have their own codes regarding ethics. Find examples and add them to your own resource file on ethical practice.

I discovered an association which I had not previously known called the American Society of Business Publication Editors. They have an excellent newsletter called Ethical News Updates. It recently featured BEPS’ new ESA 19 (see below), but also a variety of compelling ethical issues in the news.

The issue of speed impeding the accuracy of information is a topic that’s vital and recently reported to inspire the adoption of a new code of ethics by the Society of Professional Journalists. In fact, acting in haste, particularly in social media, has created many ethical missteps by both journalists and the general public.

Another resource is the latest news on the US Federal Trade Commission’s website at  Operation Full Disclosure is the FTC’s newest initiative to discourage advertisers from misleading consumers by making important information difficult to discern.

Here are some other resources I found very valuable. You’ll find others, I’m sure.

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

Consult the PRSA website for Ethics Month activities and resources

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.

Develop your own scenarios by taking a look at ethics case studies provided by BEPS online at

Consult the Ethical Standards Advisories (ESAs) available online at The recently published ES-19 addresses Native Advertising and Sponsored Content: “a paid placement that mimics the user experience of organic sharing of information via online, print, or broadcast media.” This BEPS-developed advisory includes both examples of improper practices and recommended best practices as well as further references.

The challenge of behaving ethically seems to become more complex each year. With the shortened news cycle and the ability for even the most obscure comment to go viral, it’s more important than ever for everyone in our organizations to practice ethical decision making when we’re not in the heat of the battle.

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

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

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Bobbi Johnson Simmons, APR

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