Ethics: Public Relations TRUST

    Ethics: Public Relations TRUST
    By Ethics Committee Chair Harry Kenyon, APR

    September is time to reflect on professional ethics, so let’s take some time to consider the ethics that bind the practice of public relations. 

    When we joined PRSA, we pledged to uphold the principals, values and professional ethics of the profession, but there are times when we need to step back and evaluate how we conduct our business and what is at the essence of public relations.

    These are times when some view public relations and those of us who practice it with a certain amount of skepticism.  There are plenty of examples of companies who are accused of withholding information that can damage their brand, or worse pose a threat or harm to their customers.  And as we enter the next era of major political elections, there’s an enormous onslaught of hyperbole, innuendo and blatantly false information broadcast across every medium.

    It should come as no surprise that good public relations professionals are lumped in with press agents and less than forthright hacks.  So what draws the good PR practitioner apart from those aforementioned – not just having a code of ethics, but our pledge and commitment to uphold those ethics. 

    As noted by PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), they “set out principles and guidelines built on core values. Fundamental values like advocacy, honesty, loyalty, professional development and objectivity structure ethical practice and interaction with clients and the public.”  But I will argue that if we are truly ethical we need a foundation built on TRUST!

                Trust that we are honest, accurate and transparent.

                Trust that we remain objective

                Trust that we represent our clients for the public good

    This is echoed in PRSA’s Preamble:  “The Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) is committed to ethical practices. The level of public trust PRSA members seek, as we serve the public good, means we have taken on a special obligation to operate ethically.”   Wow!  That’s inspiring.  

    Unlike other licensed professionals, there’s no one governing body for public relations.   Most anyone can call himself or herself a PR person -- no specialized training or degree needed.

    But as a member of PRSA, you have met the standards for the profession through your education and experience.  You have also made that commitment to the ethics that bind us together by signing the PRSA Member Code of Ethics Pledge. 


    So during this Ethics Month, I want to challenge all our Hampton Roads PRSA members to go beyond merely reflecting on our ethics by actively promoting how important ethics are to our employers, clients and, most importantly, those people who are the measure for our success – the public in their many varied forms.

    Please join me in celebrating our professional Code of Ethics by continually committing to practice honest and trustworthy Public Relations.


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