I’m doubling up on my posts about public relations and ethics this month. September is “Ethics Month” for the Public Relations Society of America, and we devote a lot of energy to educating/ reminding public relations professionals about the responsibility that sits on their shoulders when it comes to ethical practice.
I’m happy to also say that my Communication students at Curry College get a reasonably good introduction to ethics in both my “Introduction to Mass Communication” and “Principles of Public Relations” courses. I know that my colleagues at colleges and universities across the nation do the same, so we’re laying a solid foundation for the future of our profession.
I’ve written quite a bit about ethics in public relations, with articles published in the International Public Relations Association’s “Thought Leadership” series as well as in the Public Relations Society of America’s “PRSAY” blog and its monthly newspaper, “Tactics.”
Like any profession, not every single person who calls him- or herself a “public relations practitioner” is pristine in thought and action. There are bad apples everywhere, which makes it even more important that those of us who do conduct ourselves ethically remind the rest of the world that we believe in and support the ethical guidelines laid out for us.
Here’s the deal, though. Amazon.com doesn’t offer “ethics” as one of its many products available for purchase online. And I didn’t see any on any of the shelves at Costco the last time I was there.
Ethical behavior is a very personal thing. You either have it, or you don’t. You can’t be “sort of ethical.” You either are, or you’re not.
So that’s why it’s so important that those of us who do live and breathe ethics as a core element in our thought and practice be willing to share that conviction with others who may, or may not, share that belief.
I’m not suggesting Bible-thumping ethical evangelism (although the mental image of “saved” PR practitioners falling on their knees in a fit of fervent revelation is kind of cool!). Rather, it’s a quiet but consistent commitment that others see, sense, and support.
Ethical conviction comes from the heart, and it shows in every single thing we say and do on behalf of clients or employers.
Will everyone see the light and commit to ethical practice? Not likely. Again, as I said earlier, there are those who believe in the “whatever it takes” theory, and ethics isn’t a consideration.
But we can fight the good fight, and demonstrate to those who are willing to pay heed the long-term benefits of doing the right thing for the right reasons.
You can learn ethics. You can teach ethics. You just can’t buy ethics.