Understanding PR and Ethics

When it comes to perception, public relations doesn’t always have the best reputation in the eyes of the public. Many people equate PR with “spin” and playing with the truth. Even the Institute for Public Relations points out that “among many journalists, policymakers, and layman is the belief that the term ‘public relations ethics’ is an oxymoron.” True PR professionals know this simply isn’t the case. In order to be successful, you have to operate honestly and ethically. Let’s take a look at why ethics is so important to PR.

Public Relations Must Be Synonymous to Truth

When you made the decision to be a PR specialist or took on the role of representing your organization, you also made the decision to dedicate yourself to telling the truth. Your job is to share news with the highest standard of accuracy.

Why? Because PR specialists have an obligation to practice ethically. Our ultimate responsibility lies with the public. We want what is best for our clients or our organizations, but communicating to the public, accurately and effectively, is our job.

The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), the country’s leading trade association for PR professionals, developed a comprehensive Code of Ethics. It states, “The level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically.”

Of course, PR pros don’t actually take an official oath, to tell the truth. But, there are scores of evidence to show why being truthful is the best policy.

Public Relations Values Advocacy and Fairness

In its Code of Ethics, PRSA states, “PR specialists serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent.” So more than spin or media manipulation, the true goal of PR is responsibility and advocacy.

PR professionals give a voice to clients by providing only facts that aid and inform the public. In order to do our jobs ethically, we must respect all opinions, remaining as objective as possible in the workplace. So, while we want to paint clients in the best light, it’s important that we always do so in a factual manner. It’s the job of PR pros not to let our own opinions and biases shine through.

You may remember the old posters from Kindergarten that spell out all the rules for life. One of the most important ideas is fairness. That same idea holds true for PR ethics. PR specialists are obligated to ensuring that everyone is treated equally. This means giving each group and opinion the same amount of respect and leaving contradicting emotions at the door.

Ethics in PR All Comes Down to Credibility

When looking at PR and ethics, it all comes down to one single tenant – credibility.

Credibility is a PR professional’s most valuable resource. It is all-encompassing and demonstrates trust, fairness, expertise and loyalty. The public may still think of PR as a profession that values the art of spinning facts. In reality, the overwhelming majority of PR pros work ethically. Those of us in the industry are dedicated to upholding a set of values designed to strengthen the public’s trust in both the PR profession and the organizations we represent. This is done through credibility. If credibility is lost, faith in the company or organization is diminished or wiped out altogether.

That is why credibility, which comes from PR ethics, is absolutely essential in the field of public relations.

As a PR professional, I take my commitment to ethical practices very seriously. I would love to hear your thoughts on the topic of PR ethics and how we can work together to ensure your company is always a beacon of truth. Contact me through our Nichols Brand Stories site, or directly at mbakle@wetellyourstory.com.