The nature of the public relations industry has the potential to put PR professionals in an ethical bind on occasion. Balancing a client or an organization’s interest with our commitment to truth and serving the public has us walking a line that brings up unique challenges every day. At Ohio University, journalism and PR students coexist under one school. We know from education and experience that a journalist’s career is dedicated to truth and serving the public. Would you be surprised if I told you that so is a PR professional’s?
Many people (including some journalists and my mother) believe that our industry is full of spinsters and “yes men.” There can be bad apples in every industry, but our code of ethics written by PRSA sets out guidelines based on core values such as advocacy, honestly, loyalty, professional development and objectivity. These guide our professional work, help us with ethical decision making and aid in building honest relationships with clients and the public. Read the code of ethics here in full, but until then here is a quick breakdown of the standards we must hold ourselves to.
PRSA Member Statement of Professional Values
Advocacy. We aid informed public debate by providing a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints.
Honesty. We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth when dealing with our clients and the public.
Expertise. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education which builds credibility.
Independence. We provide objective counsel to those we represent and are held accountable for our own actions as professionals.
Loyalty. Although we are faithful to those we represent, we honor our obligation to serving public interest.
Fairness. We support the right of free expression and respect all opinions when dealing fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media and the general public.
Synopsis of the PRSA Code Provisions of Conduct
- Be honest and accurate in all communications and act promptly to correct any communication errors that are made.
- Promote respect and fair competition among public relations professionals. Deliberately undermining a competitor (ex. spreading malicious and unfounded rumors) is unethical and sabotages the business environment in which we work.
- Investigate the truthfulness and accuracy of information released on behalf of those represented.
- Avoid deceptive practices by revealing the sponsors for causes and interests represented, as well as by revealing important information that will give an honest impression of a client. Lying by omission is still lying.
- Protect privileged, confidential or insider information gained from a client or organization and immediately alert someone if that information is being divulged by an employee or client company.
- Avoid real conflicts of interest, as well as any actions that may create a potential conflict between personal and professional interests.
- Protect and enhance the public relations profession. Don’t be a bad apple!
- Pursue professional development to stay informed about practices in the profession.
- Decline representation of any client or organization that urges or requires actions not in accordance with the PRSA Code of Ethics.
Staying true to our own moral compass as well as learning, working and living by the PRSA Code of Ethics is a combination for a successful and honest career. Sign the ethics pledge here and be sure to download the PRSA Ethics app for your phone or tablet!
-Kerry Tuttle is a junior public relations major with a business administration minor and a specialization in international business. Follow Kerry at @kerrtut.