Millennial PR pros are heading into higher levels of leadership. They are taking on more responsibility and managing the next generation of new professionals. Moving from tactical positions to more strategic roles is a significant milestone, but are they equipped to recognize and manage the ethical challenges they will face?
What do they know?
This question was the focus of a September 2016 study sponsored by Arthur W. Page Center and the PRSA Board of Ethics & Professional Standards (BEPS). The data, which is published in the Public Relations Review, was collected via a survey distributed to approximately 1,500 members of the New Professionals section as well as members who have less than five years of experience in public relations. The 19% who responded indicated:
- They do not feel prepared to provide ethics counsel.
- Those who were aware of and likely to use PRSA/PRSSA ethics resources and training did feel more prepared and were more likely to believe that ethics counsel is public relations’ responsibility.
- Only one-third indicated they felt prepared to offer ethics counsel.
- Only 41 percent said they were familiar with PRSA’s Code of Ethics
- Less than half of the respondents said they were likely to consult the Code of Ethics.
How did this happen and what can we do?
These statistics stand in stark contrast to results from a survey conducted with the general PRSA membership the year before when 72 percent indicated they were familiar with the Code of Ethics. One possible explanation for the differences in awareness could be that many of the newest members of PRSA were not members of PRSSA and are just beginning to learn about PRSA’s ethics resources. Survey respondents indicated they were open and receptive to additional information, indicating an area of opportunity for PRSA to expand its outreach and professional development resources targeted to new professionals, including blog posts and Twitter chats.
This past year, PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (as a part of Ethics Month) held a Twitter chat with the New Professionals section, as well as with various PRSSA chapters around the country.
The study also provided evidence that mentors also can make a positive difference. Millennials who felt comfortable discussing ethical concerns with mentors were more likely to raise ethical concerns. Many PRSA chapters have mentoring programs for younger members and the College of Fellows also provides mentoring opportunities. Chapters who do not have a mentoring program may benefit from building stronger partnerships with PRSSA chapters and partnering senior members with new professionals.
This potential advantage is bolstered by the September survey and one conducted by BEPS over the last year, which imply that confidence and preparedness come with more experience in public relations as well as increased awareness of industry standards regarding ethical practices. When senior-level professionals share their experiences with new professionals, we are likely to see an increase in awareness, and hopefully a decrease in ethical lapses in our industry.
As a follow-up to these studies, BEPS is conducting research with the College of Fellows regarding effective techniques for raising ethical concerns. This research will lead to instructional materials for educators and PRSA members by this Fall based on insights.
By Marlene S. Neill, Baylor University, & Nancy Weaver, The Cosmopolitan of Las Vegas.