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How continued focus on ethics at the local and national level can help professional public relations societies reinforce the integrity of both the profession and its members.

Whether it’s organizing a brand awareness campaign or collaborating with media for story placement, much of the work that public relations professionals do takes place behind the scenes. Oftentimes, the only opportunity the general public has to associate a face with our profession is during times of crisis – a celebrity behaving inappropriately or a politician caught in a scandal, for instance. Although we as members of the Public Relations Society of American (PRSA) know that honesty is the best policy during these times, there are others who resort to “alternative facts” and “spin” to explain away their clients’ situation. When those falsehoods are broadcasted to millions via a television interview or social media and the truth is later revealed (as it always is), it not only takes a toll on the credibility of the individual, but on the entire public relations profession.

An Ethical Profession

As public relations professionals, we spend countless hours crafting messaging and developing strategies to promote a positive perception of our clients and organizations among members of the public. We want them to understand why they should use our products, purchase our services, or attend our universities. However, as members of PRSA, we also adhere to a Code of Ethics while pursuing our profession, and it is this practice that separates us from modern day spin doctors who attempt to mask themselves as public relations professionals. PRSA’s Code of Ethics sets out principles and guidelines that uphold the core values of the ethical practice of public relations, including:

  • Advocacy
  • Honesty
  • Loyalty
  • Professional Development
  • Objectivity

Unlike the half-truths and propaganda spewed by spin doctors, the messaging and strategies developed by public relations professionals are based on facts, and encourage the public to openly engage with us. While we do all that we can to bring attention to the meaningful work being done by our clients and organizations, we do not withhold information from or deceive audiences to portray our clients and organizations in a positive light. In fact, when our clients and organizations find themselves in a less than favorable situation, we are often the first ones to advise them to tell the truth, admit any wrongdoing, and make the situation right.

Ethics Resources at Your Fingertips

PRSA is committed to ethical practices at both the local and national level. Every September, the organization celebrates “Ethics Month” to help raise awareness and educate public relations professionals about the important role we play in upholding the public trust. It also makes available a number of resources of which members can take advantage to help guide them through any ethics-related challenges they might encounter.

  • Ethics Case Studies: Access a wide selection of ethics-related case studies to learn how colleagues in the profession have tackled similar challenges in their careers.
  • Ethics Webinar: View “Ethical Public Relations: Everyday Expectations” on-demand for more information about the ethical practice of public relations.

In our dual roles, we not only represent the interests of our clients and organizations, but are also responsible for conveying the truth to the public. In this respect, we might do well to heed the wise words of Jiminy Cricket and simply “let our conscience be our guide.”


The inaugural post for the “Sound Bites” blog site was written by PRSA Maryland, Communications Committee member Malissa M. Carroll, M.A.

Malissa is the web content specialist in the Office of Communications & Marketing at the University of Maryland School of Pharmacy.

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