As PRSA members, we are bound by a Code of Ethics. One of the three PRSA Code of Ethics provisions I am highlighting this year is about conflicts of interest.

When PR professionals change jobs, we bring all of our experience, skills and ideas to our new employer. Sometimes, that experience and skill was gained at a competitor. In Alaska, we have direct competitors in many industries. We also have organizations that, while not direct competitors, compete for a limited pool of grant funds, votes, donations, or volunteer time. And, we have organizations that work on all sides of critical public policy debates, competing for support of a particular position.

As PR professionals, we gave our former organization our best – including our great ideas.

How can we use our skills as PR practitioners to serve our new employer without compromising our ethical standards?

PRSA’s Core Principle states:

Avoiding real, potential or perceived conflicts of interest builds the trust of clients, employers and the public.

Given that background, here are a few examples of situations that may challenge PRSA practitioners in Alaska:

  1. You worked for a small credit union. Now, you’ve accepted a job with a large bank. You’ve worked in financial services for your entire career, and thoroughly understand the industry – the customers, other stakeholders, and the issues. Think about:
    • Whether or not to use an idea that your former employer liked but did not implement because they didn’t have the budget
    • Whether or not to correct your new boss when they say something about your former employer that you know is not true
    • How to approach your former employer’s top customers
  2. You worked for a state permitting agency. Now, you’ve accepted a job with a resource development company. Think about:
    • How, and how quickly, to make your new job clear to the media and other stakeholders
    • Whether or not to use the connections you made with agency and elected officials to get an audience for your new company on permitting issues
    • Whether or not to use your knowledge of the permitting agency’s internal process to accelerate your company’s permit applications
  3. You worked in the communications department for a human services organization. Now, you’ve accepted a job supporting fundraising professionals at another nonprofit. Think about:
    • How, and how quickly, to make your new job clear to important stakeholders
    • How to approach major donors from your former organization
    • Whether or not to respond to questions from donors about your former organization’s budget, personnel, or client outcomes

You need to be familiar with the conflict of interest policies at your former organization and in your new organization. You may need to study laws and regulations that govern your new industry. Within those frameworks, though, you are left with a lot of gray areas. In these situations, your personal values and PRSA’s Code of Ethics should guide your actions.

Have you had any of these experiences? How did you handle it? Would you handle it differently now? Share your thoughts, and I will (anonymously) use them in a future column.

I’m also available for confidential advice if you want to talk through the ethical implications of an action – or inaction – you are considering. Reach out at blythe@blythecampbell.com.

You can get more information about ethics at PRSA at www.prsa.org/ethics.

By Blythe Campbell, 2019 PRSA Alaska Chapter Ethics Officer