March 18, 2014
Unlike some professions, we as journalists/communicators do not have to be certified in any way to work. This is a gift and a curse for us. We don’t have anyone telling us what is right or wrong, instead we have to form our own ethical code alone. Fortunately there are organizations that help us out, but the ethical codes are either general or vary from company to company. We need to be aware of our ethics, and know when we have gone too far and crossed that invisible boundary. Unlike news and information journalism, PR professionals have to work with the client and the general public. With this in mind here are some ethical issues that you should be aware of when working in the field.
- Independence: Independence is the biggest ethical problem a PR professional can face. You want to please your client and do as they wish, but you also have an obligation to communicate with the public in an effective manner. These two ideas don’t always match up. As professionals, we need to make decisions that will please both the client and the public. In most cases, both sides will have to give a little. There will be instances that one side will get the better end of the stick, but knowing you acted independently is better than knowing someone else influenced your decision. Make the decisions that you think are best. Having two mouths to feed makes it more difficult, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t possible.
- Transparency: This is another major ethical dilemma for PR professionals. Again, being a barrier is difficult, but if you are open and communicate well with both parties, at least they know you aren’t hiding anything from them Let the public know why you make the decisions you do, and be sure that the client is always aware of your decisions. Transparency is key to a happy client relationship.
- Honesty: The final ethical value I will talk about is the importance of being honest and truthful. Providing the truth and not deceiving the public is very important in PR. If the public finds out that the information is false or distorted, then they will lose trust in your client. Also remember to be honest with your client. If you don’t think something will work, tell him/her. Clients need to know what you think and how you can make it better. Otherwise it will only cause problems down the road. Truth is highly valued in our profession, so remember to always keep it a priority.
There are many other ethical values, but these three have a major impact on our work. I encourage you all to make up your own code of ethics to keep in mind. We all have different values so write down yours to refer back to it. If you need help visit the PRSA Code of Ethics to get some ideas.
Austin Ambrose is a freshman studying Journalism. He is an Assistant Account Executive for the College Book Store account and you can follow him on Twitter at @tex_ambrose7.