PR often gets a bad reputation for representing all that is dishonest within society with many people believing ‘public relations ethics’ is nothing but an oxymoron…but it doesn’t have to be that way. PR and ethics can and should work hand-in-hand, when coupled together the pair can often be the driving force for a professional within their chosen job.
By nature, a public relations professional is likely to encounter ethical dilemmas at some point during their working life but it is how they deal with these dilemmas that shows their true character as a professional.
PR ethics can be a tricky subject to get your head around when you get to the really nitty-gritty parts of deontology and teleology but it can be simplified.
One resource that greatly helped me to grasp the concept of ethics and PR being interlinked was the film Thank You For Smoking, so definitely give that a watch if you haven’t already.
But without further ado here are four key tips in order to keep your PR as ethical as possible…
If in doubt ALWAYS check back to the CIPR Code of Conduct
Being a member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations provides a very helpful ‘glossary’ of PR and members should adhere to it’s codes- there’s even an ethics hotline for those in need of advice. However, even non-members can access some of the CIPR’s resources and their Code Of Conduct. Although non-members are not bound to follow any specific codes of conduct, it can be helpful to have a read of to gauge your ethical standpoint.
The three C’s: capability, confidence and competence
As someone working within the PR sector you should have both the capability and the competence to tackle any challenge you are faced with, you should also have the confidence in your own knowledge should an ethical dilemma arise to be able to deal with it in the correct way. If it is a somewhat ‘touchy’ subject which falls to you to to make a decision about, stick to what you believe from your ethical standpoint (obviously with the support and green-light of your client or employer). As with life, there are always going to be some people you can’t please, but if your knowledge and expertise leads you to a decision that you think it right and ethical, then stick to it. Do remember thought that if it regards an ethical issue that you strongly believe you can’t deal with due to your ethical beliefs, or just need some help with further understanding the root of the issue, speak to your client or employer.
Maintain honesty and transparency
PR is all about trust and reputation; the two very things that can be greatly tarnished by dishonesty. If an organisation is seen to have been dishonest or hasn’t been as transparent as they should be, their publics lose respect and trust, subsequently tarnishing reputation. Honesty is the cornerstone of maintaining good-relations with all of a client’s stakeholders: employees, customers, investors, the media, the local community and so-on, therefore it is integral to success. In times of crisis, your client might want to ‘disguise’ some of the truth to their stakeholders, but let your crisis management PR brain kick in- remember to be transparent, remember to apologise, outline the actions your client will/has implemented to combat the issue and reassure your target publics should a crisis arise- don’t lie to save face.
Respect and adhere to confidentiality
One of the imperative ethical principles within PR is to maintain confidentiality- don’t ever endanger your client’s confidentiality. This one should be a total no-brainer but always respect both your current client and any previous client’s private information, if you’ve been told not to say/use a piece of information then don’t, unless you are given specific permission to do so or are bound to by law.
Useful resources for understanding PR ethics:
Thank You For Smoking (2005) Directed by Jason Reitman (DVD) USA: Fox Searchlight Pictures
The CIPR Code of Conduct available HERE
#FuturePRoof by Sarah Hall available HERE
Public Relations Ethics and Professionalism: The Shadow of Excellence by Johanna Fawkes
Public Relations Ethics: How to Practice PR Without Losing Your Soul by Dick Martin & Donald Wright
Ethics in Public Relations: A Guide to Best Practice by Patricia Parsons