The public relations profession has an image problem. There are people who don’t believe we tell the truth, and that we’ll do just about anything to make our clients look good. What they fail to realize is that the vast majority of our profession doesn’t do that. Or, do they?
The Public Relations Society of America has a Code of Ethics its members are required to follow. It’s the standard for the profession, even if you don’t happen to be a member. It’s really nothing earth shattering but instead, I hope, what we all learned growing up.
- Be honest
- Tell the truth
- Treat others fairly
- Be open in your communication
- Understand the responsibility we have to the public, as well as to our clients
The Code also has a provision that says we need to continually learn about our profession but that’s a topic for another day.
What bothers me is when professionals don’t want to be truthful; when they don’t see the need to tell the public what they have done but instead hide behind another. It might be something clients will pay for, but does that make it right? It might be something that advances the client’s objectives but does that make it something that benefits the greater good?
In Alaska, we’re four months from our primary election where our incumbent senator has no real opponents but the front groups are already flooding the airwaves with advertising painting him in a less than favorable light. They are twisting the truth to make a point that isn’t factual. From where I sit, advertisers can make a lot of money creating these ads but that doesn’t make it right.
To quote the Code of Ethics, “the level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically. The value of member reputation depends upon the ethical conduct of everyone affiliated with the Public Relations Society of America. Each of us sets an example for each other.”
If we truly believe it’s important to change our profession and improve how others perceive us, we must work really hard to make sure we’re adhering to the Code. We must put the Code before our incomes, and work with our clients to show them how they can be ethical in their practices.
For more information about the Code, please go to prsa.org/ethics. You’ll find considerable information there and a host of professional standards advisories to guide you in your practice.
Join me in the pledge we all sign as members:
To conduct myself professionally, with truth, accuracy, fairness, and responsibility to the public; To improve my individual competence and advance the knowledge and proficiency of the profession through continuing research and education; And to adhere to the articles of the Member Code of Ethics 2000 for the practice of public relations as adopted by the governing Assembly of the Public Relations Society of America.
I understand and accept that there is a consequence for misconduct, up to and including membership revocation.
And, I understand that those who have been or are sanctioned by a government agency or convicted in a court of law of an action that fails to comply with the Code may be barred from membership or expelled from the Society.
And remember, just because it makes money doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do.