The Public Relations industry has recently had a bad PR problem. In 2015, nearly 70 percent of the general public did not trust the messages public relation specialists produced. This epidemic distrust, according to PRSA, is due to corruption at the top of the industry that trickles down into every aspect of a PR firm. A recent study shows that this "follow the leader" syndrome has not affected all public relations specialists, and that there are many who are trying to change how PR is viewed in the public's eye.
One way to solve the PR industry's PR problem is to start changing companies' ethical standards from the top down. How executives behave, communicate and treat their workers create the culture of the company, and this can have a positive or negative impact depending on the management.
Virgil Scudder states that "employee behavior will follow the culture the management creates." This means that if management creates an environment through demonstration where honesty and morals are uncompromisable, their employees will follow in their footsteps.
Management must also hold their workers accountable for following the ethical standards of the company but more important than that, they must allow their employees to hold the management accountable.
Everyone who works in a PR firm or agency has their own "independent voice" and management has an obligation, if they desire to be ethical, to listen to these "independent voices." What they have to say could bring important perspectives and keep management from corruption.
The Individual's Voice
A study conducted by Dr. Minette Drumwright from the University of Texas found that public relations employees are not exactly the "yes man" the public believes them to be. Although employees can face great consequences for upholding their ethical standards against their company's desire, that does not stop them.
Going against the system or disagreeing with the CEO has caused many public relations employees to be demoted, to resign or even to be fired, but they simply could not be blatantly unethical. This gumption to stand for one's morals is another way that the PR industry can solve their PR problem.
When executives rule with an iron fist, belittle their staff and set impossible expectations is when workers begin to compromise their ethics. In a way, the company is enforcing the unethical practice, but for the future of the PR industry, they need employees that believe that a "yes man" has no value and that credibility is the most important quality to have.
Once the PR industry starts to fix the corruption form the top down and listen to the individual's voice, then they will be able to work together to create the truthful and ethical content that the public needs.
One participant from Drumwright's study said that, "he [the participant's CEO] can count on me to not always agree with him." This type of relationship between the CEO and employees should be the goal for all PR firms. Only when employees speak out and management listens, will the public change their mind about the PR industry.