Sunday, October 16, 2016

Probity in Public Relations

Emma Schoonmaker

The Stigma About Truth in PR

"'I can't afford to lose my credibility... As PR professionals, it's all we have.'"

These are the words of one PR professional that was surveyed in a study at Baylor University, aiming to shed light on the sensitivity of ethics in Public Relations (PR Ethics and Reputation). While this statement may seem ominous to those in the PR industry, it unfortunately, may be true.

There is no profession in this world that can be successfully executed without honestly and transparency. As PR professionals, we face criticism about truthfulness more often than almost any other industry.

Our job in PR is to act in the best interest of our client. Sometimes, this may mean doing something that is unpopular by the standards of most people, but acceptable in the eyes of our client. To the public, this can be incredibly deceiving.

Below is a video that expresses the aspects of PR that people already know, while also providing information about the industry that people may not know. Before delving into a conversation about what is ethical PR, let's first define PR itself:

What Can We Do About It?

We have to work harder than most to maintain a respectable reputation in the business world, which is why ethical standards MUST be established within any PR-based company. The PR and Marketing world is constantly criticized for being unethical and unscrupulous, and it is a stigma that our industry needs to be working harder to change.

In Virgil Scudder's article "Follow the Leader: Ethics and Responsibility," he discusses how companies become dishonest in the first place, and what they can do to change their harmful ways:

"A company's cultural and ethical standards come from the top down, not from the bottom up. Employees will almost always behave in the manner that they think management expects from them, and it is foolish for management to pretend otherwise."

In other words, Scudder explains that moral and ethical standards begin with the CEO of every company. In PR, defining ethical standards should be the first building block of a firm's foundation. It is imperative for the top leaders to "promote the development of a clear set of standards," -- without this, more serious issues will arise.

This image from the Public Relations Resource Centre illustrates a strategic model for following ethical standards in PR, something that many companies in our industry would benefit from following.
For corporate leaders, creating an ethical culture is something that you need to establish from the beginning, rather than having a lax attitude about it and having to work tirelessly to repair it later on. Among many other tips, Scudder suggests that company executives bring in "an outside firm to look at the standards and practices periodically" and "reveal the hazards of having lax ethical standards."

What Does This Mean for Journalists?

Journalism and public relations go hand-in-hand. Both professions seek to get important and useful information about relevant topics to the public whilst doing it fairly and ethically. Furthermore, the two industries are becoming more alike with the evolution of media.

The rise of corporate journalism is a budding method of reporting news that borrows tactics from PR professionals. An article by Frederic Filloux, entitled "Brace yourself for the corporate journalism wave," states that newsrooms should prepare themselves for this movement to catch on.

Filloux writes, "The public relations crowd is rising in a spectacular fashion... [there is] a growing inclination for PR firms, communication agencies, and corporations themselves to build fully-staffed newsrooms with editor-in-chiefs, writers, and photo and video editors."

PR and journalism is beginning to merge now more than ever, which may be very good for the PR world and yet very concerning for the journalism world.

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