With the prevalence of discussion of “fake news,” and a seemingly general distrust of some media outlets, it may be difficult for consumers to feel confident in the credibility of information. As PR professionals, it is our job to establish and maintain a client’s credibility, a task that has become even more important in today’s unstable climate. In this month’s PRSA Tactics, Ann Barks of Ann Barks Public Relations, Pam Golden, founder and president of GLA Communications, analyzed PR professionals’ responsibility and mission “to teach, demonstrate and guide our clients, staff and communities on ethics.” Barks and Golden outline three important factors in building that ethical environment:
- Choosing the right path: When in moments of uncertainty, Tom Hoog, Vice Chairman of Hill+Knowlton Strategies, suggests asking yourself, “Am I being moral? Am I being ethical? And I being truthful?” It’s important to remember that your client’s unethical actions also reflect back onto you and your work.
- Preparing staff: Ethical issues can arise not just with your clients but also within a PR firm. Make sure that your staff feels confident in their ethical values and comfortable discussing when their values are breached. A study conducted by Marleen S. Neill and Nancy Weaver found that “millennial PR practitioners are ill-prepared to offer ethics counseling to clients.” Neill and Weaver suggest experienced practitioners “guide their teams” to build ethical counseling skills.
- Creating stronger communities: The ability to create stronger communities through ethical values is unique to PR professionals. Barks and Golden believe “our communities and families are stronger when we demonstrate ethical values wherever people encounter us.” As a PR professional and as a member of society, recognizing when something crosses your ethical standards and responding to it can benefit both your business and society.
As Tom Hoog says, “Public relations professionals must be the last bastion of truth-tellers.” It is up to us to stay true to our ethical and moral values, and to encourage our clients to do the same.