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Ethics in Public Relations

What do we mean when we talk about ethics in public relations?

By: Andrea Simrell, SCPRSA Ethics Officer

It’s pretty easy to separate ethical from unethical when it comes to issues like stealing or forgery, but what about a more “gray area”?  Could you determine the right ethical choice when it comes to less-clear situations that can arise in public relations?

Take this question from a sample APR exam:

You work for a utility company that is building a biomass plant in the community. Your employer asks you to give a series of community talks about the plant and future operations. You visit the plant several hours before you are due to give a speech that has been prepared by your immediate supervisor. During the tour of the plant, you discover several claims in the speech are not true.  What do you do?

  1. Write and deliver a new speech that you know is entirely correct.
  2. Cancel all speeches until you and your supervisor can get the information straight.
  3. Deliver the speech as prepared and discuss the inaccuracies with your supervisor afterward.
  4. Address the inaccuracies with your supervisor immediately and make the necessary corrections before giving the speech.

The correct answer is D, but chances are the other three answers have played out in real situations. Ethics can be a challenging and nuanced aspect of public relations, but one that is critical to upholding our professional conduct, personal reputation and the public’s trust in us.

According to PRSA, ethical practice is the most important obligation of a member of the organization. Because PR practitioners are tasked with serving the public good, we need to demonstrate our intentional focus on ethics and adhere to the core values of advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity.

Ethics play a key role a number of public relations topics and the challenges they can present ― from conflicts of interest and competition to plagiarism, intellectual property and even the ethical use of interns.

Throughout the year, we’ll explore various aspects of ethics in public relations and discuss applications that can make us all better, more ethical practitioners.

Have a topic you’re interested in? Let us know if the comments and we may tackle it in an upcoming post!

But for now, check out this PRSA quiz that will measure your Ethics Quotient.

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