When observing ethical trends, it is obvious in hat PR practitioners have adopted the guise of acting unethical. However, there have been powerful lights of honesty in crises that have brought out truth in the corporation, one example being Tylenol admitting immediately to customers when their medicine was contaminated. Through acting immediately and fostering all of the “correct” ethical behavior, some being openness, truthfulness, responsiveness, etc., they saved their corporation and their consumers.
If practitioners were honest through their entire job and withheld corporate social responsibilities, even before a crisis occurs, that is the true success of being in this industry. Half of our job being to keep an image in control and prevent any issue possible. How can crisis prevention succeed by attempting to deceive your audience? It is not success to cheat and hope you wont get caught. That is inviting a crisis into your door. This makes you and your client look awful, no matter how great you looked before the incident.
No matter what your client wants, PR operates off public trust. Your client is another avenue of the two-way, mutually beneficial relationship. But lying to the audience for the client’s sake is not including the populous in this relationship, thus abandoning this ideal will ultimately shoot yourself in the foot. Coexistence is needed and is achieved by guiding the client to be truthfully advertised. This should not be done through consequentialist methods. We should do the right thing no matter what the consequence, rather than committing unethical actions knowing it would bring success in the future. As PR is a democratized media, it is important to check with third parties, such as the PRSA, on what is ethical. As we are not always traveling through a reporter’s filter, PR professionals are accountable to consult the PRSA immediately when concerned about a breach of ethics in a job or campaign. If reporters are held responsible to tell the truth, PR practitioners should as well.
An article from PRWatch.org covered the topic of ethical standards, and I loved a point it made on creating consequences to unethical behavior in the profession. I think it would be interesting to see PR professionals held accountable for their inappropriate actions as they are in Brazil, where those who behave unethically are removed from the profession by having their license revoked. Similar to when doctors or lawyers are guilty of malpractice, PR professionals should be held accountable when they persuade an audience in unjust ways. The only problem is the practitioner is only scolded once caught. How can we put the unethical actions to an end completely?
While requiring an ethical license assigned to practitioners and focusing on achieving public trust are two great methods for avoiding unethical behavior in PR, there are still the impossible moments of when your manager or client asks for you to act on such behavior. The problem here is these clients know that PR even has bad PR. PR is known for cutting corners to “guarantee” success, so I believe it can be confusing when we hold our ground on ethics. Perhaps a method to prevent this issue could be a clear division of ethical standards expressed to clients and managers from you before starting work. If the client or boss rejects such a statement, they most likely are unethical and would ask you to perform in ways that would degrade your integrity.
Stand up for yourself. Honesty is hard to reject.
Edelman, Richard. “A New Look at Ethical Practice of PR – Edelman.” Edelman Conversations 6 AM. N.p., 1 May 2015. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://www.edelman.com/p/6-a-m/a-new-look-at-the-ethical-practice-of-pr/>.
Kennedy, Mickie E. “PR Ethics in the Spotlight: What To Do When You Have an Ethical PR Dilemma.” Bulldog Reporter. N.p., 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <https://www.bulldogreporter.com/pr-ethics-in-the-spotlight-what-to-do-when-you-have-an-ethical-pr-dilem/>.
Potter, Wendell. “Does “Ethical PR” HAVE to Be an Oxymoron, Richard Edelman?” PR Watch. N.p., 28 Nov. 2010. Web. 28 Mar. 2016. <http://www.prwatch.org/news/2010/11/9650/does-ethical-pr-have-be-oxymoron-richard-edelman>.