Ethics in Public Relations: Guidance for Professionals Working in the PR Field

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When you decide to get a public relations degree, there’s more to learn than the core concepts surrounding promotion. Ethics in this particular arena is important; learning how to balance your personal morals with the requirements of your client work is essential if you are going to work in the field. To help with this task, the Public Relations Society of America provides a framework within which public relations professionals are expected to work.

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Demonstrating Professional Values

The PRSA advises that professionals practice advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty, and fairness when applying ethics to everyday work. Maintaining ethical behavior is a constant process, and can often depend on the situation. These guidelines, therefore, offer reference points for comparing individual situations in order to ensure each move you make is as ethical as possible. Some of them are outlined below.

Share Information

Public Relations professionals are responsible for representing clients in an ethical way. This means that we advocate for them, providing on their behalf “a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.” However, this does not mean that PR professionals can lie or skirt the truth, either when interacting with clients or when representing products or services to the public. Information used must be accurate, truthful and advantageous to both clients and the public.

PR professionals should assist in the free flow of information to ensure that the public can make informed decisions, and maintain open relationships with the media, the government and the public. Any information disseminated by those responsible for PR should be independently investigated for accuracy by those individuals and should reveal any sponsorship at the heart of the information. These guidelines surrounding information sharing also dictate that individuals in PR quickly correct any false information that has been disseminated and avoid large volume gift-giving or receiving that could be tied to gaining any kind of unethical advantage.

Use Your Expertise to Advance the Field

If you’re interested in pursuing a degree in public relations, then you are on your way to developing the particular knowledge necessary for ethical success in the field. As you grow into a PR professional, it becomes your ethical responsibility to be constantly improving the field and the practices used while simultaneously building trust among the public. This is the charge of every ethical industry member.

Embrace Competition

Competition is the bedrock of any industry, pushing it to grow and evolve and continually improve. Therefore, PR professionals should always respect fair competition among themselves and their peers. Avoiding undermining competitors and avoiding stealing other individuals’ work is at the heart of this ethical behavior.

Keep Confidences

PR professionals must keep the confidences of clients, protecting privileged and insider information, and be prepared to continue to do so in the face of that information being leaked by another party.

Avoid Conflicts of Interest

The professional’s personal interests come last in PR work. The organization being represented comes first, as we are charged with acting in our client’s or our employer’s best interests regardless of our own.

Stay Up-to-Date

As mentioned above, the Public Relations Society of America publishes these ethical guidelines for PR professionals on a regular basis. Staying up to date with those guidelines and ensuring you are self-aware are the two best approaches to ethics in PR.

PRSA: Ethics
PRSA Ethics Resources