PR Ethics – The Difference Between Right and Wrong

September 12, 2013  | By Catherine Seeds

“Jiminy Cricket at the Magic Kingdom / Disney World by JeffChristiansen, on Flickr”

Let’s face it, gang, PR ethics is – at the very root – knowing what is right and what is wrong. It is a motto that we all must live by, whether you are in public relations or not. Every day when I drop my daughter off at school, without fail, I tell her these three things:

  • I love you.
  • Be a good friend today.
  • Do the right thing.

Doing the right thing can be tough, though. Just ask Johnny Manziel and the communications team at Texas A&M. It’s rather obvious that we (the public) do not know the whole story, nor will we probably ever know for sure if Johnny Football took that money for signing autographs. But it’s highly likely that (he did) and that the athletic department insiders at Texas A&M know the truth. But because of pressure from the University and the looming kick-off to the 2013 football season set with high expectations for the SEC Aggies and their Heisman trophy-winning quarterback – things were, let’s just say…”taken care of” and Johnny Manziel was benched for only half of a football game.  All of this justified because, well, that’s just the way college football works. Who cares if it was slightly unethical and against the rules?

When the pressure is high to succeed, sometimes PR ethics can be chucked out the window. But that doesn’t make it right. As PR professionals, our ethics are what build our reputations – with clients, media and analysts. At Ketner Group, we pride ourselves on being honest and transparent to our clients as well as to the media and industry analysts that we work with on a daily basis. As Michael Herman, APR Fellow with the PRSA said at the recent Southeast Region Conference, “Tell the truth, always. That way you don’t have to worry about what you said. How you treat people matters.”

September is Ethics Month at PRSA and is a time for members and non-members alike to think about what ethics means to them, both on a personal level as well as within their own organizations and the clients they represent. Check out the line-up of activities that PRSA has planned to help inform and educate us about PR issues in our industry.

For those of you in Austin, make sure to register for the September luncheon where you’ll be treated to a terrific line-up of speakers who will lead a discussion on PR ethics in the digital age with plenty of “tips and tricks” on how to use social media responsibly.

Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “The time is always right to do what is right.” I love this quote for many reasons, but it does have a relatable message for those of us in PR. If you feel like what you are doing is wrong, then it probably is wrong. If your gut tells you that the “communications decision” you are about to make is wrong, listen to your gut – it’ll never steer you wrong.

If you are still not sure what the right decision is, download the PRSA Ethics mobile app to set you straight. It’s like a mini PR ethics book in your back pocket or purse.

And if you are still not sure what to do, well, I would encourage you to listen to the words from the song “Let Your Conscience Be Your Guide” from the classic Disney movie, Pinocchio.  Those songwriters MUST have known someone in PR!

Happy pitching!