Beyond the Code: Developing Your Own Sense of Public Relations Ethics


By Glenn Gillen, APR

The Oxford dictionary defines ethics as “moral principles that govern a person’s or group’s behavior.” While some PR college curricula (and Public Relations Student Society of America chapters) address ethics, many do not.

I’d like to think that most PR professionals do act ethically, but it’s easy to see how the poor judgment of a few can taint the perception of the profession. As you begin your career in public relations, you may find yourself in the precarious situation of having to decide if an action asked or required of you is ethical or not.

One good touchstone for professional ethics is the Public Relations Society of America’s Code of Ethics. While the Code serves as a good foundation, I find that listing specific do’s and don’ts better illustrates how my colleagues and I put these values into practice. Following are some examples from personal experience.

  • I will not pay a media outlet nor 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 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 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 that is a direct competitor of an existing client.
  • I will disclose any potential conflicts of interest I, my family or friends, or our company has 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, I will fully disclose our firm’s professional relationship with the client.
  • I will not submit letters to the editor nor 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 upon review and approval.

Ethical behavior should be modeled by top management and filter down to every employee. The more you live out your professional values, the easier it should be to say “no” to unethical practices.

glen-ethics Glenn Gillen, APR, is senior account manager at S&A Communications in Cary, North Carolina. Email or follow @ggpr on Twitter.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *