Sunday, September 20, 2015

Conflicts of Interest in the PRofessional World

Julie Weller

Throughout our short careers in the the media industry, surely most of us have already faced an ethical dilemma and we all know that we will not be able to avoid making an ethical decision in the future as journalists and public relations professionals. For many of the public relations majors in this ethics class, we will have ethical dilemmas when faced with conflicts of interest in the near future.

The article Common PR Conflicts by the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon sums up how to recognize a conflict of interest and escape the situation before things go bad.

According to the article, conflicts of interest can be professional, personal, or a mix of both. The author mentions a conflict of interest of an agency taking on two competing cell phone brands at the same time. Could the agency represent both companies such as Verizon Wireless AND AT&T without bias and maintain confidentiality between the two brands?

Verizon VS. AT&T-

This example made me think of something my capstone professor said in class a few weeks ago. An agency that he used to work for does PR and advertising for McDonalds. With such a huge client, the agency is not allowed to sign deals with new clients who happen to be in the food or drink industry. Of course the agency obliges because McDonald's pays them the big bucks, but this is a good example of not allowing conflicting interests in a PR agency.

What about outside of professional conflicts of interest? As humans, we all have special interests. If those interests conflict with a new client, ethically should we pass up the job?

The article gives the example of an agency taking on a company that is notorious for polluting. If your agency is proactive about taking on environmentally conscious clients but the polluter is willing to pay big money for an advertisement, would it be ethical for you to do it? Would it be completely possible to leave all bias out when it comes to creating the perfect advertisement?

A Progressions Blog on PRSSA's website explains how to handle a conflict interest like the one mentioned above in five steps. First we must be objective when analyzing the situation. Next, we have to consider all the affected parties and possible resulting consequences. Then, it's important to be transparent to all parties involved and ask a trusted person for input on the situation. Lastly, once we make an informed decision, it's important that we stand by it.

Corporate Conflict of Interest-

A good example of an agency accepting a client with a conflict of interest to another client is this article about Freud Communications. In 2011, Freud's agency was chosen to promote the government's Change4Life campaign, which fights against obesity. Simultaneously, the agency promotes other clients whose main products are the unhealthy drinks and sweets that the campaign is working against.

This conflict of interest seems similar to KFC's buckets for the cure advertisements. Of course we acknowledge that all clients are going to be promoting very different products, but is it ethical to promote two polar-opposite ideas or products simultaneously?

As public relations professionals, as long as we abide by the PRSA Code of Ethics, core principle, intent and guidelines listed in the article, our decision will have an ethical outcome. Lastly of course, we have to remember that if our gut tells us something is wrong, don't do it!

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