Ethics in Public Relations
5 Points to Keep in Mind

Ethics in Public Relations

What does Ethics have to do with Public Relations? Ethics in its simplest iteration is the analysis of right or wrong. Ethics can also mean the study of what makes actions right or wrong. The implication of this is that there is a certain supreme moral principle that one can refer to in times of difficult moral decisions.

So what does ethics have to do with public relations?  In the domain of public relations ethics encompasses the values of honesty, loyalty, openness, integrity, respect, fairness, and accurate communication. This view of morality is not shared by all practitioners of public relations.

Historically, the view of the general public of public relations practitioners are related to unethical practices, untruthful and misleading messages. Some pundits even go to the extreme of suggesting that ethics cannot exist in the context of public relations because the practice itself is of manipulation, persuasion, and propaganda.

There are various studies that have been conducted that indicate that modern public relations is having deleterious and very significant effects on the democratic process in place today. This is because interested parties have the opportunity to purposely confuse, mislead, and disrupt any public debates about issues vital to the public interest. This meddling in an obviously key democratic process can result in the reduction of society’s ability to react effectively in issues of societal and political importance.

What guidelines can public relations practitioners follow to avoid moral and ethical conflicts?

1. Ethics in Public Relations / Be knowledgeable in public relations.
Professionals in the field of public relations must have knowledge and focus on ethics before they encounter a situation of difficult moral decision. The moment when a crisis of conflicting interest comes it will be too late to find and seek moral guidance. Practitioners must be fully familiar with the ethical values of their organizations before these values are put under public scrutiny.

2. Ethics in Public Relations / Be Aware of your values.
Public relations practitioners should be totally aware of their own values. Taking stock of their own values as individuals and practitioners of public relations will be of immense help when the moment comes that these values will be put under pressure by a client, a supervisor, or by the public.

3. Ethics in Public Relations / Be abble to identify sticky situations.
Be vigilant of and identify issues that have the potential to become ethical dilemmas. The failure to identify and act on ethical issues will often result in costly failures and public relations debacles for the organization concerned. Early identification of ethical issues will allow more time for analysis, discussion, research, and resolution of these issues. A proactive position is easier to take rather than merely reacting to issues that have been brought to light by the public or by media.

4. Ethics in Public Relations / Walk the talk of the mission statement.
Public relations professionals should be aware of the fundamental values inherent in the organization’s mission statement or code of ethics. Focus on the ethics approach that will be the nearest to organizational values in practice. The function of public relations in this area would be to encourage discussion and ethical debate throughout the organization by using internal communications.

5. Ethics in Public Relations / Train your staff well.
Educating top level management of the capabilities of public relations beyond media relations in the resolution and prevention of ethical dilemmas can contribute to the success of the organization by the utilization of issues management, relationships with publics, and conflict resolution methods.

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