The practice of public relations can present unique and challenging ethical issues. At the same time, protecting integrity and the public trust are fundamental to the profession’s role and reputation. Bottom line, successful public relations hinges on the ethics of its practitioners.
To help members navigate ethics principles and applications, the Society created, and continues to maintain, the PRSA Code of Ethics. Under the Code, widely regarded as the industry standard, members pledge to core values, principles and practice guidelines that define their professionalism and advance their success.
Building Principles on Core Values
The Code, created and maintained by the PRSA Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), sets out principles and guidelines built on core values. Fundamental values like advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity structure ethical practice and interaction with clients and the public.
Translating values into principles of ethical practice, the Code advises professionals to:
- Protect and advance the free flow of accurate and truthful information.
- Foster informed decision making through open communication.
- Protect confidential and private information.
- Promote healthy and fair competition among professionals.
- Avoid conflicts of interest.
- Work to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.
Code guidelines, like tactics supporting strategies, zero in on putting value and principles into play for working professionals facing everyday tasks and challenges. Among them, professionals should:
- Be honest and accurate in all communications.
- Reveal sponsors for represented causes and interests.
- Act in the best interest of clients or employers.
- Disclose financial interests in a client’s organization.
- Safeguard the confidences and privacy rights of clients and employees.
- Follow ethical hiring practices to respect free and open competition.
- Avoid conflicts between personal and professional interests.
- Decline representation of clients requiring actions contrary to the Code.
- Accurately define what public relations activities can accomplish.
- Report all ethical violations to the appropriate authority.
Addressing Practice Challenges
Digging even deeper, BEPS takes on current practice issues and challenges in periodic Professional Standards Advisories (PSA’s). Applying the Code to specific scenarios, BEPS has addressed practices including:
- Pay-for-play journalism.
- Anonymous Internet posting, “flogs” and viral marketing.
- Front groups.
- Disclosure of payment of expert commentators.
- Truth in wartime communications.
- Overstating charges or compensation for work performed.
Offering a Professional Model
In the Code preamble, PRSA asserts that “ethical practice is the most important obligation of a PRSA member.” While the Code covers members, PRSA maintains that all public relations professionals should look to it as a model of professional behavior. Additionally, PRSA regards the Code as a “model for other professions, organizations and professionals.”
Resources for Your Benefit
To make the topic of professional ethics accessible, understandable and practical, PRSA offers a host of resources — the PRSA Code of Ethics, Professional Standards Advisories, topical analyses and case studies. The Code is also available in Spanish for your convenience.
Have an Ethical Dilemma?
PRSA members seeking counsel on ethical matters are invited to confer with PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards