Why PR Needs Ethics

As a public relations practitioner you should always aim to be ethical. What does being an ethical public relations practitioner mean? Many have different opinions on this, but for me the answer is simple, being a trustworthy source of information. You need to have boundaries in mind when you are planning a public relations campaign of what is right and what is wrong.

Many public relations professionals aren’t trusted by the general people because of their use of “Spin” techniques. Spin is a word used to describe the act of PR professionals turning a negative event into something that appears to be favorable in the public eye. A famous quote by E. R. Beadle states “Half the work done in the world is to make things appear what they are not”.  Many times in my opinion spin is necessary to help a company or person sustain their career or business. Many times one individual can make a bad decision and that one decision will cause a company, person or organization to be judged forever, with the use of spin you can try to get people not to focus so much on that one negative thing and look at the bigger more positive picture. This is where ethics and being ethical comes into play, how much of a “spin” you can put on things.

Being ethical isn’t just following the PRSA code of ethics but having your own set of values and morals that you base your judgment off of.  The difference between what is right and wrong is the fundamental principle of ethics and being ethical. Having ethics in public relations or any field of study for that matter, sets boundaries for people that otherwise would lie and cheat to achieve personal and professional gains. Although it may not always work in your favor, being ethical will only help improve the image of public relations therefore making our jobs a lot easier. When people think of public relation stunts they think of something that was created to trick them into liking whatever it is you are promoting or working for. If we are all seen as these untrustworthy tricksters then what makes us think people will believe what we are promoting is a good product, service or organization? The need for ethics in every life of a PR professional is not only for them to feel good about themselves but for the profession as a whole to become a more trustworthy source of information.

Many times it will appear to be so much easier to lie rather than tell the truth and this is where practitioners get lost. At these points in time you can turn to the PRSA code of ethics that outlines the basics of what the profession is aimed to achieve through its core values and principles. The fundamental values that PRSA bases the profession of public relations off of are advocacy, loyalty, honesty, objectivity and professional development. Putting these values into action through ethical practice is aimed at practitioners becoming a more credible and trustworthy source of professionals even if it doesn’t always make you popular.

Looking at every decision you make from an ethical standpoint is a must for public relations practitioners, since although you may not be directly in the public eye, you will be first to blame if something goes wrong. There have been many incidents in the news about corporations or celebrities that mess up extremely bad then you hear of their PR team trying to cover it up or spin the story another way and that doesn’t exactly deal with the problem it’s just hiding it. When it’s something of a high magnitude like that the best think a PR practitioner can do is accept fault and try to plan programs to fix it.

Ask yourself right now, “Am I an ethical person?” once you attain your answer, ask yourself this question next, “Have I ever cheated on an assignment or test in school?” The majority of people have had a little unauthorized assistance on something in their lifetime making that an unethical decision. You know it’s wrong and there are many rules and codes that preach academic honesty so why did you do it? You did it so you would make a good grade. In the corporate world, you weren’t ethical because you were trying to make your company look good compared to the competition. In the entertainment world, you weren’t ethical because you wanted your client to be the most adored person in the room. But the most important reason why we speak of ethics is how it portrays the profession of public relations and the practitioner. Do you want to be known for being untrustworthy, not-credible and a liar? I didn’t think so, and neither does the profession.



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