Your Ethics Are Always Showing

    The world is watching.

    Whether talking on the phone, texting a colleague, chatting at a party, or posting on Facebook, today we all must assume that anything we say or do — no matter how mundane — might make or break our reputation.

    To those of us in public relations, that seems like a no-brainer. Yet every day, a seemingly preventable gaffe takes down another CEO or celebrity.

    Even conversations held during media training aren’t protected from scrutiny, as “Papa John” Schnatter recently learned. This revelation about the head of the pizza chain came the same week that politically charged text messages landed a longstanding FBI agent in a Congressional hearing. And, viral video after video continue to reveal the racist behavior of certain public servants, along with some of the everyday citizens they serve.

    In 2009, musician Dave Carroll nearly broke YouTube — and United Airlines’ image — when his song “United Breaks Guitars” recounted his failed attempts to be compensated for the guitar he said United baggage handlers damaged. Considered one of the first viral videos, it demonstrated the rapid and relentless impact of social media.

    Nine years later, lesson learned? Not exactly. Too many businesses and corporate leaders are still learning the hard way that their bad behavior instantly attracts millions of views.

    So, what is the ethical responsibility of a PR practitioner? We may not be able to control how clients and C-suite leaders behave in public, but we can at least remind them of three crucial facts.

    First, nothing is ever off the record anymore.

    Second, everyone has a smartphone with a camera and video recorder — and they’re not afraid to use it.

    Third, always behave as though the world is watching. Because if you don’t, it soon will be.

    Nancy Chapman co-chairs the PRSA Hampton Roads Ethics Committee. She is account manager and managing editor of the EVMS Magazine at Eastern Virginia Medical School.


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