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Ethical Dilemmas…as simple as whether the ball is in or out?

It’s no secret I work in a profession — public relations — that many don’t consider to be terribly ethical. In fact there are surveys that put their trust in public relations professionals right above used car salesmen and just below lawyers. Ouch! As public relations professionals, we agree to abide by a Code of Ethics in our profession. It’s really not that different from other professions or than my mother taught me growing up.

  • Be Honest and Tell the Truth
  • Advocate for Those we Represent
  • Responsibly Use the Knowledge and Expertise We Have
  • Be Independent and Loyal
  • Be Fair

Looking at these lessons from another perspective, a college friend shared a guide from a professor we all admired. Dr. Ball, who recently turned 95, had an impact on virtually every student who attended Whitman College during the past 40+ years. Dr. Ball’s advice to my tennis-playing friend:

“If you cannot see it, then do not call it out. And if you can see it with a smidge of confidence, then call it out or in with a bit more confidence. If you think your opponent’s shot might have landed on the line, but are not sure, call it in. Always be the bigger player in the calls. And the analogy to life has stuck with me all these years.”Tennis ball -- is it in or out?

When you look at it like that it doesn’t seem that hard to live an ethical life or practice your profession in an ethical manner. So, why do we find it so hard to do so? I think sometimes we just forget a tenet in the Code. We forget to be sure of what we’re doing and we lose confidence in our own expertise and knowledge. Once that happens, it’s easier to cross the line. If you’re like me you have reminders that help you stay on the “straight and narrow.”

Throughout our professional and personal lives we are faced with many such calls and instances where others don’t always call the game correctly. If we all work together we can help everyone call a better game and be sure the ball stays in the court.

By |2018-03-18T23:00:52+00:00June 14th, 2010|Leadership & Networking|2 Comments

About the Author:

Mary Deming Barber, APR, Fellow PRSA, runs a strategic communications consultancy where she helps clients understand how to integrate new media into traditional communication programs. Mary has counseled clients in Tacoma, Anchorage, San Francisco, Oregon, and Colorado for nearly 40 years working with a variety of food organizations, several agencies, and as a key team member on two successful US Senate campaigns. 


  1. Marisa Vallbona July 13, 2010 at 4:01 pm - Reply

    Great blog! Too often people find themselves in a “slow fade.” That is to say they slip a little, then a little becomes a lot, until they have no sense of right or wrong. You see that frequently in today’s economy with survival coming into play. In the end, the ones who walk the straight and narrow will be rewarded with reputations intact.

    • mary July 13, 2010 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Thanks for reading, and commenting Marisa. I hope you’re correct. Too often lately, though, I see people blindly following what they read without regard to the facts. It especially upsets me when it’s members of our profession.

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