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Spotlight on Ethics: The New Face of PR Ethics

It’s September, and that means it’s Ethics Month!

I know many of you are probably yawning. PR ethics is pretty straightforward – avoid conflicts of interest and ensure your press releases are accurate and not misleading, right? But ethics has become quite exciting and complex as the new landscape is changing the face of our profession.

Over the last few decades, we’ve seen drastic changes to how we do business and communicate.  Some of those changes include consumers’ greater emphasis on doing business with companies that are socially responsible, the 24x7 news cycle and citizen journalists, new communication vehicles like social media and the proliferation of and access to data. These changes have created some new ethical challenges for organizations and PR pros, including:

  • There are more reputation management opportunities and risks. How we promote good news and mitigate crises, especially in today’s constant news cycle, is more important than ever. Are we accurately representing an organization’s good works? Are we being transparent and timely when sharing negative information? When we have the job to repair the reputation of an organization or an individual, are we appropriately balancing protecting the organization with respecting the victims?
  • There is a greater emphasis on accurate, truthful information as consumers have access to more information. We’ve heard a lot about fake news in the last several years and know that we can’t spread misinformation, but it’s just as important to really think through how we present information and position information in a way that’s not biased.
  • We live our lives online and put a lot of data out there – as a PR pro, I love having access to data for planning and measurement. It’s important to be transparent when we collect data. Are we disclosing what are we collecting, how are we collecting it and what will be used for? If we use external resources to gather data, are they following ethical protocols? Also, if our organization stores data such as credit card numbers, personal contact information or health information, do we have the right safeguards in place? Do our practices ensure timely notification in the event of a data breach?
  • We must take steps to ensure we are inclusive as ethics and diversity and inclusion go hand in hand. Part of the ethical practice of PR is involving diverse viewpoints throughout our process. Not only is this ethical, it leads to better results. Is our project team diverse? Have we identified all target audiences and thoroughly researched each segment? Do our materials represent diverse stakeholders?

While the face of ethics is more complex than in the past, there are resources at the local and national level to help you. Local resources include me, your Ethics Officer. I am here to help you navigate ethical questions and connect you with resources. Also, the chapter offers ethics-specific programming. Our next Coffee Chat on Sept. 26 will feature a panel of PR pros talking about how they’ve navigated ethical issues. More information including registration details is available on PRSA Central Ohio’s website.

At the national level, the Board of Ethical Practices and Standards (BEPS) has posted ethics resources on the PRSA website. BEPS also is offering several events during Ethics Month

  • 26, noon – Social Media, The Law and Public Relations Practice (Webinar) – This webinar examines the major legal trends affecting the practice of public relations and digital communication, including social media policymaking, regulations of social media promotions and ownership of social media content.

Watch the Communities Homepage on MyPRSA for more information about these events.

Practicing PR in an ethical manner benefits the individual, the organization and the profession. During Ethics Month, take a moment to think about the new ethical challenges PR pros face today, and what steps we can take to keep our profession strong.

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