September for the Public Relations Society of America is branded as “Ethics Month,” and we as a Society are running like gerbils on the wheel in our cage to inform, educate, and increase awareness of the role that ethics plays in our lives as PR professionals.
My undergrad Communication students at Curry College are getting a healthy dose of this in my “Principles of Public Relations” and other classes, and I send them to PRSA’s “Code of Ethics” for an early writing assignment to reinforce our classroom discussions.
Ethics is an interesting topic that usually sparks lively pro-and-con discussions on what’s considered “right” or “wrong.” It also usually triggers the question, “Who cares?”
That last part, in my opinion, is the heart of the matter. Who does care?
The last time I checked, the world had not stopped in its tracks because someone chose to act unethically.
Molten lava didn’t fall from the sky to wipe out entire cities.
Nope. Life chugged along as usual. People went to work. Babies cried. Students freaked out over homework assignments. Life as usual.
But, I would offer, unethical acts done by public relations professionals (and others, I hasten to add…are we listening, NFL leadership??) do matter. And things do happen.
> Corporate as well as personal reputations are smudged.
> Brands are tarnished.
> Doubt and distrust begin to fester in the dark corners of the public’s minds.
And so the slip down the slope begins.
I’m an optimist. You know that if you’ve spent even a micro-second on my blog. I believe that we all are born programmed to do the right thing.
But some of us, for all kinds of personal or professional reasons, choose not to do the “right” thing at some point.
> We cut corners.
> We fudge facts.
> We play favorites.
> We act unethically.
We don’t have to, though. We can stand firm when dealing with clients, employers, or employees who just can’t see why ethical practice is so important.
This isn’t always the proverbial “walk in the park.” The concepts that we, as PR professionals, hold as important don’t always match the perceptions of others. So it falls on our shoulders to not only adhere to ethical standards of practice, but also to try to help others understand why it is important.
So here’s a thought…If you’re not already, make yourself familiar with PRSA’s Code of Ethics. Do as I have done for countless years and display a copy of the Code in your work area for others to see.
Most important, be alert for potential ethical issues and be prepared and willing to point out…and offer alternatives to…possible unethical acts.
Your actions and suggestions are not always going to be greeted with open arms. You will meet resistance from some.
It’s your choice.
It’s your profession.
It’s your professional pride and reputation.
Ethical? Or unethical?
To quote the famous philosopher Leo Durocher, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”