Ethics in Public Relations

Ethical questions often pop up in public relations. Are PR agencies responsible for reporting on CEOs who cook their books or do they just go along for the fear of losing the account?Is it ethical to do crisis communication for a public limited company whose top management has knowingly diverted funds without asking for the approval of its shareholders? Is it ethical to manipulate news content by bribing journalists?

I think PR agencies who preach corporate governance and corporate social responsibility should take a stance when it comes to practicing it.They may make money in the short run by playing along with an unethical company but in the long term your reputation as an agency is bound to suffer. Especially in this digital world where all that you have done in the past is preserved for posterity, its difficult to erase the bad doings. It will be ironic if the PR agency itself will have to resort to doing crisis communication to save its own reputation.

Below is excerpt from article on Ethical Public Relations by Steven R. Van Hook that is worth reading(

The Public Relations department is frequently the ethical heart of an organization. Internal and external PR communications control of the flow of good and bad news to the staff and community. The PR team copes with company crises. PR pros sit at the elbows of top officers drafting a company’s mission statements, its strategies, its vision.

PR people are often put on the spot — if not to determine the morality of a course, at least to help envision the fallout. Fortunately there are valuable touchstone tools for finding our way.Throughout the many schools of ethics and conduct, there are some common threads.

For example: Don’t lie. Ever. One thing we’ve learned well in recent decades is that the uncovered cover-up frequently incurs more wrath than the original offense. Even the highest potentates with all the levers at their power cannot keep a lid on a secret boiling over.

Many people perceive public relations as something less than respectable — as clever strategies to convince the public that what’s wrong is right. Some see public relations professionals as manipulators of the public mind, rather than conveyors of truth.

That is likely the reason most every code of conduct, especially those targeted at the PR profession, stresses honesty above all else. Too often our conduct falls short of the code. Spin substitutes for truth. Perception substitutes for reality. Victory substitutes for success.

The shadings are subtle. The arguments are heated. The proponents are ostracized. But it does matter, both in the big picture and the bottom line.

Theologians say it. Physicists say it. Even squinty-eyed comptrollers now realize it. In our interconnected systems, everything matters to everything else. What we are is a composite of our daily decisions, thoughts and actions, large and small. As business writer John Ellis says, “The truth matters. Loyalty matters. Lies matter. Values matter. You know a Dilbert company the minute you walk into it. Dilbert-company employees know the exact calibration of corporate dishonesty.”

An organization’s ethics flow from the top down and back up again, and permeates throughout the company mindset. A stranger off the street can sniff it out just by walking in the door. Nothing is hidden, especially in this wired age where news — especially bad news — gushes in an instant.

These matters must preoccupy the devoted PR professional.

We might remember, too, that public relations is a two way street: not only do we represent our organization to the public, but we must also present the public back to our organization. We should help our colleagues understand how the public perceives our actions.

Just like little Jiminy Crickets, public relations professionals are often the conscience of a company. It’s not always a popular spot to be in, but it is our duty. It’s what we’re paid to do. And, as we sometimes confess to one another, it’s what we largely love most about our job.

About Iris PR Dubai

Iris Public Relations is a PR agency in Dubai, UAE, providing public relations consultancy in the Middle East
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