The overwhelming majority of PR practitioners I’ve encountered are upstanding and professional. However, it only takes a few bad apples exhibiting unethical behavior to taint the perception of the profession.
I knew from my first week at S&A Communications nine years ago that the firm prides itself on ethical behavior. Founder Ron Smith, APR, is a longtime member of PRSA, and as such, fosters an environment of honesty, openness and adherence to PRSA’s Code of Ethics.
While the Code serves as a good touchstone, I find that listing specific dos and don’ts better illustrates how our staff puts these values into practice. What follows are some examples from personal experience:
I will not pay a media outlet or share client/vendor information with them in order to get a story placed.
I will discuss sponsored-content opportunities with clients, as long as they are fully aware it’s an advertisement.
I will not guarantee earned-media placements.
I will utilize my expertise and relationships to optimize the potential for earned media.
I will not send gifts to journalists in return for quid pro quo coverage.
I will send vetted journalists and bloggers product samples and complementary passes to events in order to facilitate reviews.
I will not deliberately send false or misleading information to journalists.
I will take corrective action and notify journalists if incorrect or incomplete information was inadvertently distributed.
I will not create nor accept busy work to pad billable hours.
I will honestly advise clients against strategies and tactics that I deem unproductive or potentially damaging.
I will not offer exclusives to more than one journalist at a time.
I will develop mutually beneficial relationships with reporters/editors and determine which would make best use of the information I possess.
I will not publicly slander competitors to gain clients and employees.
I will respond appropriately when others slander or spread rumors about my company and my clients.
I will not share or leak proprietary information provided by current or former clients.
I will respect confidentiality agreements.
I will not take on a client who is a direct competitor of an existing client.
I will disclose any potential conflicts of interest that my family or friends, our company or I have when taking on work.
I will not anonymously post flattering comments about clients — or negative comments about their competitors — on social media.
If I do post a comment on social media, then I will fully disclose our firm’s professional relationship with the client.
I will not submit letters to the editor or call in to news/talk radio programs under an assumed name.
I will draft guest editorials and letters to the editor on behalf of clients, and submit under their names after review and approval.
Lastly, in writing this sample list, I couldn’t help but think of Mike Herman, APR, Fellow PRSA, who served as ethics chair for the North Carolina Chapter of PRSA before his untimely passing in January 2015.
When all else fails, I ask myself, “What would Mike Herman do?”
This article originally appeared in the September 2016 Issue of Tactics.