Your Career and You: “Sorry? Or Sorry I Got Caught?”

Publication1I’m on a slightly different rant today than usual thanks to a Vanity Fair article on former CIA Director David Petraeus and his “PR comeback.” While I’m not surprised that he’s trying to salvage his torpedoed reputation both as a former Army general and as director of an organization that I used to hold in high regard, I have to say I’m disappointed.

Why, you ask?

Because, once again, a public figure…someone who should represent high standards of professional and personal ethics…has proven indisputably that he is (a) a fallible human and (b) no better than the common herd.

I want so badly to look up to and admire public figures. But, in today’s world, where every move made by these individuals is seen and commented/reported on by both professional media and “citizen journalists,” it’s becoming more and more difficult.

I constantly remind my young undergraduate charges at Curry College, where I head the Communication Department‘s Public Relations Concentration and teach most of the PR courses, that our challenge as representatives of organizations or individuals is to somehow help our client or employer understand that acting honorably and ethically is crucial to earning and keeping the public’s trust and respect.

Are we listening, Tiger??

The temptations are great, though. The adoration of the masses. The worshipful attention of the media. The unquestioning loyalty of staff members/assistants who, themselves, are basking blissfully in the glow of their boss.

I’m not suggesting that I expect and demand perfection…if  that were the case, I probably would have burst into flames years ago. What I am suggesting is that the public deserves better than what we’ve been witnessing lately. SanduskyWeinerWoodsArmstrongPetraeus…the list rambles on and on. (Note: I have linked to Wikipedia entries on each of these…there’s a boatload of additional information online.)

Although we shouldn’t have to rely on someone else’s guidance to tell us what might be considered right or wrong, ethical or unethical, I am grateful to the Public Relations Society of America for having had the foresight decades ago to provide a Code of Ethics to guide those of us who engage in the public relations profession in our day-to-day activities.

Under the Code’s “Provisions of Conduct” is this section about “Enhancing the Profession,” and I provide the wording verbatim from our website:
> To build respect and credibility with the public for the profession of public relations
> To improve, adapt and expand professional practices.

Not all PR practitioners adhere to the Code of Ethics. As with any profession, there are those who believe the guidelines don’t apply to them or their business activities, and there are those who, for whatever delusional reasoning, think they won’t get caught anyway.

Got breaking news for you, folks…check with one of the five folks above. Then think again.

Whatever the case, just remember. It’s a lot easier on your conscience to say a sincere “I’m sorry” for a genuinely honest mistake than it is to mumble a perceived “I’m sorry I got caught” with the cameras shining in your sweaty face.

“An act has no ethical quality whatever unless it be chosen out of several all equally possible.” – William James, “Principles of Psychology” [1890], ch. 9


About kirkhazlett

35+ years' federal government and nonprofit organization PR experience followed by more than 20 years' undergraduate and graduate college teaching experience. Community and media relations expertise, as well as a fanaticism for quality service and customer satisfaction. PR for healthcare and member services organizations ranging from Blood Bank of Hawaii to Medical Area Service Corporation to Boston Harborfest. Consulting services for Manila and Singapore Red Cross.
This entry was posted in Code of Ethics, PRSA, public relations, Public Relations Society of America, Uncategorized, Undergraduate Communication and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Your Career and You: “Sorry? Or Sorry I Got Caught?”

  1. Les Goldberg says:

    There are no excuses for lack of ethics in any profession. The biggest problem possibly is the lack of education about ethics — what the word means, what consequences can occur — at all levels of academia, in business, government, non-profits and society as a whole.


    • kirkhazlett says:

      You are absolutely correct, Les, and PRSA is doing what I consider to be a good job of educating its members. Unfortunately, as you well know, that membership, as with any national organization, does not have 100% of the professionals in that particular field as its members. It’s an ongoing but incredibly important mission that I, for one, will continue supporting in word and in deed.

      Thanks very much for reading and commenting!


  2. That’s a great distinction, Kirk. All too often we get the “I’m sorry I got caught” or “I’m sorry you’re mad” or some iteration thereof. Why not just say “I’m sorry” without any add-ons … and then really SHOW you’re sorry. Right?


    • kirkhazlett says:

      It makes me crazy, Shonali, to witness this time and again. The culprit usually really doesn’t want to say anything and won’t until prodded. One of my favorite and genuine apologies was that of Jet Blue’s David Neeleman who basically said “we screwed up…we’re sorry.” And we know what happened to him as a result!

      It’s, as you say so well, hos you SHOW that you’re sorry that “seals the deal.” It HAS to be real.

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting!


  3. Susan says:

    Sadly, our first exposure to ethics comes from our parents whose job it is to instill in us the importance of doing the right thing. Too many people learn from their first role models that doing the expedient thing, or the thing that benefits us most is what we are entitled to do. In every case you’ve cited, entitlement played a key factor in boorish behavior and bad judgement. Good relationships, whether with clients, the media, the public or personal friends and family depend on doing the right thing for its own sake – then, when mistakes or poor judgement rear their ugly heads, forgiveness is more easily reached.


    • kirkhazlett says:

      You’ve touched on an important area, Susan…our role models…or those who should be our role models. I go off on wild tangents in my Introduction to Mass Communication classes about what I (and others before me) see as the harmful by-products of media consumption…when we see someone “get away with it” on television or in a movie, a little “bug” is planted in our head that whispers “You can do that, too.” Did it all start with Eve and the apple?!?

      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! You raise some very good points!


  4. dickpirozzolo says:

    US Rep Don Young’s rolling apology for using the slur “wetbacks” is particularly egregious. A mini apology? And when that doesn’t work a full apology? Unbelievable!


  5. Pingback: Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc. | Breaking Out of The Box Only To Be Put in Another - Shonali Burke Consulting, Inc.

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