One of the three PRSA Code of Ethics provisions I will highlight this year is about fair competition for PR work.

PRSA’s Core Principle states:

Promoting healthy and fair competition among professionals preserves an ethical climate while fostering a robust business environment.

In Alaska’s small market, the opportunities for public relations professionals are not only limited, but well known. There are a small number of organizations – government, business and nonprofit – who hire PR practitioners as employees or consultants. And, there are a small number of PRSA members – about 200 of us in Alaska – who pursue PR opportunities as either employees or consultants. Over our careers, most of us will work for more than one organization, and many of us will move back (and forth) from work as employees and work as consultants.

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

  • You work for a PR agency. One of your top clients has decided to bring more of their communications work in-house. The client loves your work and offers you a job. Think about:
    • When to disclose to your agency employer that you are considering an offer from a client
    • If you decide to take the job, how to manage the relationship with your former employer:
      • Protecting the agency’s intellectual property
      • Managing your employer’s contract with the agency
    • If you will be building a department within the client organization, how to ethically hire staff who may have worked with you at the agency
  • You work for an organization that needs PR help for a large project. You have several friends who are now solo practitioners, and another friend who works for a local PR agency. Think about:
    • How to set up a fair process to determine which individual or agency will best meet your organization’s communication needs
    • How to avoid giving one practitioner an unfair advantage with “inside” information about your organization
  • You are a solo practitioner. Another solo practitioner asks you to propose on a project with him. You work together to write a response. Two weeks later, you are approached by another team proposing on the same project. Think about:
    • Whether or not to join the second proposal
    • Whether or not to withdraw from the first proposal
    • When to disclose your deliberations and decision, and with whom

All of the situations above may involve legal contracts, like non-disclosure or non-compete agreements, or partnership agreements. They may involve regulatory or process constraints, like procurement regulations or policies. Those will certainly guide how you CAN proceed. But at their heart, situations like these require you to think hard about how you SHOULD proceed. We’ve all had that uncomfortable feeling that taking a course of action is going to steer us over an ethical line; 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