PRSAHR Hosts Ethics Discussion

    In recognition of Ethics in PR month, our chapter meeting on Wednesday, September 16 featured Bonnie Atwood (at center in photo above), freelance writer and former lobbyist with a unique perspective into the codes of ethics for public relations.

    PRSAHR Hosts Ethics Discussion
    Story and Photos by Marcy Germanotta

    Doing the right thing isn’t always simple. Sometimes the decision you make depends on the chair – or job – you’re sitting in, said Bonnie Atwood, guest speaker at today’s PRSA Hampton Road’s Chapter luncheon. 

    Bonnie has a wealth of experience debating ethics, gleaned from careers practicing law and working as a journalist to her current positions as a lobbyist and freelancer. 

    No matter what profession you find yourself in, Bonnie said, there are likely codes of conduct everyone seems to agree on. For example, the importance of honesty. 

    “If you aren’t honest, you will self-destruct,” Bonnie said. She illustrated this with a story of how a young legislator’s career was ended after he lied when giving a response at committee hearing. 

    “Perhaps he thought it was a near truth, so it was okay,” Bonnie said. “But in this case, there was no gray area. It was a lie, and it backfired on him.”

    Bonnie is currently working as a lobbyist representing such groups as the Virginia Retired Teachers Association and the Virginia Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. She is also a freelance writer, founding Tall Poppies Freelance Writing LLC in 2008. She is active in a number of professional groups, including the Virginia Professional Communicators, where she served as president.   

    Bonnie said ethics comes down to more than the choices we make – it’s about what we ought to do, not just what we can do. 

    Ethics discussions have been around since the start of humanity. One of the first articulations of professional ethics was the Hippocratic Oath. As you might expect, that oath practiced by physicians has had many versions, and such is the case for other professions. When societal norms change, when advancements are made, such as new technology, ethics tend to get an overhaul, she said.   

    But the basics remain. In addition to honesty, she said, accuracy is vital. It is key to gaining and maintaining trust. When it comes down to defining your brand or business, she stressed, be sure the facts you throw out are accurate. Don’t hype, and never lie. Other sure fire ethics breaches include attempting to hide a conflict of interest or not respecting confidentiality. 

    Bonnie’s presentation, full of personal stories and audience-involved scenarios, gave us all an opportunity to ponder our professional and personal ethics and wonder: is there really a difference?

    Seen at PRSA - September 16, 2015

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