Ethics in public relations has long been a hot topic and issue for debate. Many critics think public relations ethics is an oxymoron. They think the average PR practitioner is little more than a charlatan and spin-doctor.
Frankly, I can understand why. Looking back at the roots of public relations to the “father” himself, Edward Bernays, there was little regard for ethics and the public during the nascent years of public relations. In fact, Bernays went to far as to call the era of 1850 to 1905 the “public be damned era.”
I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again. While dangerously treading the waters of falsehood, stereotypes certainly start with a degree of truth to them. Unfortunate though it may be, this is the foundation with which we have to work.
The public relations practitioner is under so much scrutiny, even the slightest misstep receives superfluous attention. It seems, for now at least, the public and the media focus much more attention on blunders than success stories.
So, how do we combat this image? What should the role of the contemporary PR practitioner be today?
Great strides have been made toward legitimizing the profession, and a backbone of ethics is essential to this continued progression. We now have large, powerful associations that have established codes of ethics as the guiding tenets of any PR practitioner. Through continued diligence and a commitment to ethics, the industry can only continue to grow and improve.
Within an organization or company, the role of the PR practitioner should be to lead the company down a moral and ethical path to success. Ultimately, the bottom line is what drives any business. This quest to operate in the black may entail following some less than reputable business practices. It is the moral obligation of any PR practitioner to right the ship and make sure the business or organization operates in an ethical manner.
This is certainly easier said than done, but associations like PRSA make this goal easier. These associations represent an invaluable resource and tool any PR practitioner can utilize. Using their codes of ethics as guideposts, the PR industry is poised to excel and shed its image as a seedy deceiver. To this end, a PR professional should be both an advocate for the public good, as well as an advocate for their respective organization’s goals.
How do we balance these two seemingly conflicting things? Perhaps a re-evaluation of how we perceive business is needed. Why is it that the public good and an organization’s goals are seen to be at odds? They don’t have to be. With a PR practitioner at the forefront who is guided by good ethics and morals, an organization can succeed while maintaining ethical business practices.
Following an ethical model stands to benefit everyone involved. The business can excel, the public doesn’t feel deceived and the PR industry can finally earn the respect it deserves.