A Brief Overview of Ethics in Public Relations

⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten ⌛

In many cases, PR practitioners’ reputations are on the line. One stigma, in addition to the whole “spin doctor” line of old, is that all PR pros perpetuate fake news. Admittedly, there are public relations practitioners who do that, but as a whole, the industry relies on its ethical codes in two-way communications.

So, as a public relations practitioner or your organization’s main communicator (with or without much communications experience), how can you ensure that you’re communicating ethically? 

First and foremost, how do you even define ethics? 

“The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy explains: ‘The field of ethics, also called moral philosophy, involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior’ (http://www.iep.utm.edu/e/ethics.htm). Definitions of ethics normally have in common the elements of requiring some form of systematic analysis, distinguishing right from wrong, and determining the nature of what should be valued. In the public relations discipline, ethics includes values such as honesty, openness, loyalty, fair-mindedness, respect, integrity, and forthright communication. This definition of public relations ethics goes far beyond the olden days of ‘flacking for space’ or spinning some persuasive message, but this view is not shared by everyone.”

Source: https://instituteforpr.org/ethics-and-public-relations/ 

The Institute for Public Relations is dedicated to the science beneath the art of public relations. It uses research to guide and evaluate programs, to understand what we do and why we do it and the social science underpinnings of our work. In this article, Ethics and Public Relations, Shannon Bowen provides an overview of public relations ethics in its current state. 

Hourglass Media follows the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)’s Code of Ethics. It’s part of our own Hourglass Principles, and we educate clients and colleagues about it and why we choose to follow this particular code. The PRSA Code of Ethics has the following parts:

Professional Values

  • Advocacy

  • Honesty 

  • Expertise

  • Independence

  • Loyalty

  • Fairness

Code Provisions of Conduct

  • Free Flow of Information

  • Competition

  • Disclosure of Information

  • Safeguarding Confidences

  • Conflicts of Interest

  • Enhancing the Profession

Founded 20 years ago, The PR Council serves 110+ agencies across the country with its mission to help grow talent, revenue, profit and reputation for its member agencies and the industry. It established its own ethical code to maintain the highest level of professionalism and ethical behavior within its membership. 

The PR Council’s Code of Ethics and Principles are as follows: 

1. We adhere to the highest standards of ethics in the public relations profession.

2. We protect the integrity of client information.

3. We honor our role in society.

4. We are committed to accuracy.

5. We believe that our clients and the public are best served when third party relationships with spokespeople, bloggers, partners, and allies are open and transparent.

6. We are conscientious stewards of taxpayer dollars.

7. We value diversity and inclusion in our profession.

8. We are committed to agency practices that increase society’s confidence in the practice of public relations.


Kaylin R. Staten, APR, is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer based in Huntington, WV with nearly 16 years of professional communications experience. As CEO and founder of Hourglass Media, she uses her compassionate spirit and expertise to delve into the heart of clients’ stories. She is a recovering perfectionist, mental health advocate, wife, cat mom and Leia Organa aficionado. Connect with Kaylin on LinkedIn.