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Ensure you bring ethics into your PR activities
By Kim Harrison,
Consultant, Author and Principal of www.cuttingedgepr.com
Public relations is one of the most maligned professions. Our critics flay us with criticism:
“Public relations is organized lying.”
“Public relations ethics is an oxymoron.”
Why does this denigration happen? How can our profession, which professes to be expert in building positive reputations for others, suffer from such a poor reputation itself?
Some of the problems arise because public relations is an umbrella term that covers a multitude of activities and practitioners who are located at all points of the ethical spectrum.
As public relations practitioners we don’t have to be registered; we don’t need to be qualified and we don’t need to belong to a professional association requiring high standards of professional and ethical practice. Anyone can call themselves a public relations practitioner, even the untrained, the incompetent and the unscrupulous.
Most high-profile problems relating to the profession originate from non-members of public relations professional bodies. These people can legitimately engage in public relations as they see fit and are only subject to laws, not ethical standards of behavior.
Our profession is vulnerable because many practitioners are merely technicians or implementers – messengers for the management of the organization or client. The PR persons in these situations have no authority over what they do; they are merely mouthpieces for other people who may or may not be ethical. However, the PR practitioners are held responsible by recipients for the messages they disseminate.
Also, there are many cases of practitioners who allow themselves to fall short of good practice. Reporters continually complain about the multitudinous times PR people have sent them un-newsworthy rubbish either because they didn’t know better or they allowed their employer or client to pressure them into knowingly sending unsuitable and untargeted information. Just visit http://www.prnewswire.com on any day to see a sample of the vast wasteland of information served up to the US media release distribution service daily.
You may say “ethics are all very well, but I need to get on with the real work.” However, you may not realize how many ethical decisions are needed almost every day in PR work. How well are you equipped to deal with ethical decision-making that will stand up to scrutiny? How would you handle some of these real-life scenarios?
If you belong to a public relations association, it is likely to have a code of ethics in place to govern the behavior of its members. However, the code of ethics may not seem to cover your specific situation.
There are three broad approaches to ethical dilemmas:
You can think about which approach or combination of approaches is most compatible with your organization’s values and policies. This will be helpful as a guide to making the ethical decisions as outlined below.
Practical ways to build ethics into PR programs
Lofty ethical philosophy is fine, but what can be done in your everyday practice of public relations? These practical guidelines will help resolve ethical dilemmas:
This process should help you deal with ethical dilemmas.
About the Author
Kim Harrison is a recognized authority in the public relations field. His website, www.cuttingedgepr.com, provides a wealth of informative articles and resources on public relations techniques and management.
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