It May Be ‘Great PR’…But Is It Ethical?
A Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA
The Public Relations Society of America chooses September as the month to remind its members of the importance of ethical thought and behavior. Other communication organizations, including the International Association of Business Communicators and the International Public Relations Association for example, also emphasize ethical practice in their membership information.
While I’m encouraged that my fellow practitioners around the world receive these reminders, I’m discouraged that the reality exists (sadly) that some of them need the reminders.
Maybe it’s my upbringing (small-town Georgia) in which I was surrounded by people who did good for no other reason than they believed in their hearts that was the right thing to do.
Now before you go jumping up and down and yelling “Kirk, how naïve could you possibly be?” I hasten to say that I know not everyone around me was lily-white perfect. But those who were my role models were…of that I am sure.
And those people’s beliefs and actions represent, to me, the essence of ethical business practice…doing good simply because you believe it’s “the right thing to do.”
Communicators have an inherent responsibility to act ethically.
Why? Because countless others…stakeholders, potential clients/employers, “innocent bystanders”…will be impacted in some way by what we say or do, or advise others to say or do.
I love to regale my undergrad Communication students at Curry College with a true story from my early teens.
My younger siblings had a friend visiting, and we were sitting around yakking aimlessly. The young fellow came up behind me and whacked me on the head with the wooden base for a jigsaw puzzle.
Never having been the most verbally-skilled person on Earth, I swung around and screamed, “What the hell?? That hurt!!”
To which he responded with what, to him, was perfect logic: “When they did it on television, it didn’t hurt.”
To quote Homer Simpson, “D-OH!”
The point here is about the peripheral effects of an unethical action. You might not see the damage that it does, or the action that it promotes.
But someone…somewhere…will see your (unknown to him or her, unethical) action and decide, “Well, that didn’t hurt anyone, so I can do the same.”
Responsibility for ethical public relations…like any business…practice lies squarely on your shoulders.
No one else can make the decision for you, so ask yourself before acting on what you believe is a good idea… “But is it ethical?”
“Responsibility is the first step in responsibility.” – W. E. B. Du Bois, “John Brown . The Legacy of John Brown”
Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Associate Professor of Communication (Undergraduate) at Curry College in Milton, MA. He also is Visiting Lecturer, Organizational and Professional Communication (Graduate), at Regis College in Weston, MA. Prior to his move into academia, Kirk practiced nonprofit and government public relations and marketing for more than 35 years in the US as well as Asia. Accredited by the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA), Kirk is a former member of PRSA’s national Board of Directors and has held leadership positions with PRSA Educators Academy and PRSA Northeast District as well as with the Boston and Hawaii PRSA chapters.
September 19, 2013 @ 8:35 pm
I was just dealing with this dilemma recently. I was listening to a speaker, and I wasn’t sure I agreed with some of their tactics dealing with social media and PR. I’m a senior at U of L, and I actually had a moment of, “Do I want to go into this profession?” Is this something I believe in? Thank you for your post. You have reminded me that it is our choice to make ethical decisions. We have that choice and don’t have to go along with unethical PR practices.
September 23, 2013 @ 1:55 pm
An excellent example of the role an agency must play with its clients. They don’t just rely on us for our expertise, but also for our advice. PR must be the voice of reason because we know it can take just a moment to cause a backlash and then years to gain back the trust. http://www.newsmakergroup.com/blog/how-to-be-a-good-pr-agency/