#PR Expanded Guest Post: Ethical Awareness … It’s Never Too Early

Guest Post By Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, Adjunct Professor, University of Tampa (FL)

Hazlett_Kirk_HeadshotI know that ethics is “taught” in various forms in most colleges and universities, but I have serious concerns as to whether or not the “real world” is included in the process. I’ve seen a lot of theory bandied about, and a lot of historical background. But how much “this is why ethical behavior is crucial to the success of your client or employer” reality is included, I’m not sure.

Those of you reading this who have subjected yourselves to my ramblings in the past know that I tend to quote Edward L. Bernays, arguably the “Father of Public Relations,” a LOT! I had the distinct honor of knowing Mr. Bernays and visiting his home in Cambridge, Mass., on various occasions. He was…and remains to me…an incredible example of gentlemanly behavior and public relations professionalism.

In “Your Future in Public Relations” (Richards Rosen Press; 1961), Bernays has this to say about ethics and public relations counsel: “Anybody with ingrained good sense does not need a specific code of ethics tailored to his profession to tell him how to behave. (p. 61)”  However, he adds in a later chapter, “If an individual is to give advice to others, he should have knowledge and understanding. (p. 77)”

Mr. Bernays makes it pretty clear here…ethical people will behave ethically. But he also gives a good argument for the value of education in the process of professional development.

And this brings me back to my earlier concerns.

Yes. It’s important to be aware of the history preceding today’s ethical guidelines as provided by the Public Relations Society of America, the Chartered Institute of Public Relations, and other professional societies. But it’s even more important to provide real-life, real-time examples that today’s young men and women…tomorrow’s practitioners…can understand and relate to.

PRSA’s Code of Ethics provides very clear and pertinent examples to support each of its “Provisions of Conduct.” I, for one, use the Code in my classes to drive home the point that ethical behavior is not “the way we were”…rather, it is the “here and now.”

Happily, PRSA also devotes the month of September to intensive ethics training and education. Blog posts, Twitterchats, webinars, and in-person presentations ensure that members around the world have an opportunity to refresh their knowledge and, perhaps, share their own experiences with others. I encourage my students to participate as often as possible and to offer their own insights and am pleased to say that I almost always have at least one or two who take advantage of this opportunity to add to their own knowledge base.

I like to think that, by proactively introducing these young future professionals to the ethical guidelines by which we guide our own thought and action, I am fulfilling the final provision of PRSA’s Code of Ethics: “Enhancing the Profession…Public relations professionals work constantly to strengthen the public’s trust in the profession.”

I believe with all my heart that each and every one of my students should walk out the door with a clear understanding of the expectations I have of him or her. Ethical awareness…it’s never too early.

Kirk Hazlett, APR, Fellow PRSA, is Adjunct Professor of Communication at the University of Tampa (FL). Prior to this, he was Associate Professor of Communication/PR at Curry College in Milton, MA, for more than a decade. A long-time and actively-involved member of the Public Relations Society of America, Kirk was appointed in January 2018 as PRSA Tampa Bay’s first Ethics Officer and has launched an active awareness program to help guide members through ethical challenges. In addition, he is co-chair of the Chapter’s PRSSA/New Professionals Committee.