September is “Ethics Awareness Month” for the Public Relations Society of America, and I had plenty of time over the summer to reflect on what I see as “progress” of some sort in ethics education for PR professionals.
Now that fall semester has kicked into full gear at Curry College, where I head the undergraduate Public Relations concentration and teach most (but not all, thankfully!) of the PR courses, I’m giving the topic even more thought because I will be talking about it in both my “Intro to Mass Communication” and my “Principles of PR” classes.
PRSA is doing a commendable job of providing educational opportunities for its members…and the public…on the provisions and intent of its Code of Ethics. Other PR-related organizations are doing an equally fine job.
So why the “two-one” intro?
Simple…I don’t believe we’re there yet…not completely. Although most of our colleagues are, and always have been, highly ethical in their practice, ensuring that their advice and counsel to clients or employers honors the ethical principles that should be our hallmark, there are still those who “stray.”
And these are the folks whose names are splashed on the front page of the still-surviving print publications or are the leads on the evening news.
Our challenge as PR professionals is to constantly remind others that there are guidelines that can help everyone act ethically if followed. In addition, there are expectations on the part of the many publics impacted by our activities that we will be conducting our business in an ethical manner.
The “problem” as I see it, however, is that the perception by many is the opposite…that we don’t act ethically…that we somehow manipulate everyone and everything that we come in contact with in order to accomplish our mission.
Two steps forward…
- Educate…Be advocates for ethical public relations practice. Speak up and speak out on the subject, and encourage others to do the same.
- Demonstrate…Explain when appropriate why we take a particular course of action or decline to do so.
One step back…
- You see the headlines and read the stories.
I think I speak for the overwhelming majority of my colleagues when I say that one of the things that attracted me to public relations was the opportunity to provide services openly and honestly on behalf of clients or employers. I was raised with the expectation that I would act in this way. I feel very comfortable acting in this way. I have no desire to act otherwise.
“The very spring and root of honesty and virtue lie in good education.”
Plutarch, “Morals. Of the Training of Children”