Public Relations, Public Pressure
When we discuss the morals and ethics of journalism, we have to recognize each branch that sprouts from the whole of communications. In today’s media world, an organization depends heavily on not only the ethical values of its workers, but on the ethical jurisdiction of their public relations agents.
As a public relations professional, there is a great deal of pressure to both uphold the company’s image and to inform the public. According to bulldogreporter.com, numerous PR employees have left (whether willingly or not) their job because their morals conflicted with what their job had asked them to do. Often times, public relations professionals find themselves belittled in their job; they’re seen as tools of marketing the company, rather than consultants. Company leaders who use a “my word is law” mentality for their employees can easily find themselves stuck in a negative light, because they underestimate the importance of proper public relations knowledge.
Simon SaysAs I described in my previous post “A Sinful Culture”, the basis of ethical decision making and execution lies in the hands of an organization’s leaders. In his article “Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibility,” Virgil Scudder describes Rupert Murdoch’s scandal as an example of a leader’s unethical decision making that affects the rest of the company. Murdoch, in trying to defend his company’s image by placing the blame on the lower level employees, actually created a worse image for himself: he didn’t take responsibility, and therefore further perpetuated the scandal.
Scudder says, “One of a CEO’s most important jobs is to create, foster and communicate the culture of the organization." He then goes on to describe the need for a CEO to understand their role in a company, both personal and strategic. It’s a simple concept -- that a leader must lead the company; must make an example of themselves for the employees underneath them. If a leader in a company does not uphold their own personal morals and apply them to how they run the organization, corruption and scandal will run rampant within its ranks. On one hand, a leader needs to trust the ethical code of their employees, but on the other, the employees must have a model of the company’s ethical values to which they can look upon.
When an organization’s head cannot hold a firm ethical stance, it’s easy to imagine the confusion of the employees underneath them. What many company leaders haven’t appreciated yet is how integrated marketing and public relations has become in the recent decade. Social media, the Internet and smart phones have attributed to the constant connection people around the world share. One small piece of information can be seen thousands of times within seconds; a company can be made or broken in mere minutes.
Because of the hyper-connective way of the world, companies and organizations have to be ultra aware of their public image, which includes their ethical values. The job of a company’s publicist includes understanding where the company would stand in a controversial issue and being able to execute an honest stance to the public. However, it becomes a dilemma when information that a company is publicizing is seen as “crude” or, worse, false. Even if an employee publishes incorrect/unethical information, what the public acknowledges first is not the employee themselves, but the organization they work for. The leader must be ready to take the brunt of the criticism and consequences, because it is inevitably their responsibility to monitor what information is published and how it is published.