PRSA has a Code of Ethics to strengthen the ethical practice of public relations, to develop public relations professionals, and enhance the day-to-day practice of public relations.

Background

In the late 1990s, a team of senior public relations professionals took on the charge of revising the PRSA Code of Ethics. Over three or four years, they examined the codes of other professional organizations and researched the most effective methods of strengthening the ethical practice of our profession, including conducting primary research.

Advancing the professional

The result of their diligent work is today’s PRSA Code of Ethics, A code that inspires and educates rather than reprimands and punishes. A code with compassion that helps members understand and change behaviors, building ethical public relations practices.

Intent and Impact

If you were assigned during your elementary and secondary years to write 100, 500, 1,000 times, “I shall not __________” (fill in the blank), you will understand one of the reasons they came to that distinction. As a secondary English teacher, my students taught me the only thing they learned from such an activity (usually assigned by their math, science or social studies teachers) was to hate writing, Language Arts and English.

What did work with students was discussion of what and why, intent on their part vs impact on those perceiving the action, sometimes developing specific actions and goals to change behavior.

Likewise, in the revision of our Code, the committee found, based on research, that discussion and education is also more effective than shame or retribution in adult behaviors

As a result, in each provision of our Code, you will find examples of improper conduct related to that provision. Why? Because each of us from time to time, makes mistakes. We, generally, inadvertently, may act outside the guidelines set forth in the Code provisions. When such improper conduct comes to the attention of members, chapter ethics officers or PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards, our job is to bring this conduct to the attention of the member and to discuss how it infringes on the provision and its potential to diminish our profession. Our job is to help our members learn and understand best practices in public relations.

Assuming good

The Code revisions intentionally did not use the word violate which connotes punishment, not learning and inspiration. Rather than reprimand or shame the person for his or her actions, the team chose to enlighten and discuss with the individual the meaning and importance of the provision. Instead of embarrassing and chastising, we teach. From an educational perspective, this is the better way to achieve learning and professional development.

Prior to this 2000 revision, our Code included a punishment clause. It didn’t advance the profession or the professional. The team choose to assume good intent by our members, understanding human errors will be made. They set out to change behavior through teachable moments rather than to shame or blame the member.

What you can do

If you perceive improper conduct related to PRSA’s Code of Ethics, you can

  1. Talk with the member and discuss how his or her conduct conflicts with the Code and how it reflects on our profession.
  2. Contact your Chapter Ethics Officer. Most chapters list the Chapter Ethics Officer on their websites. Or you can contact your Chapter President to learn who is serving your chapter in this role.

BEPS focuses on ethics in the day-to-day practice of public relations. We talk with members who have concerns about ethical situations in public relations. We educate and inspire public relations professionals to keep ethics central to their work. And we provide many resources on ethical dilemmas, Ethical Standards Advisories, ethical moments and other materials, located on the PRSA website for your use. You can Contact BEPS here.