How Ethics Shape A Public Relations Pro's Career

⌛ By Kaylin R. Staten

If you’re a public relations practitioner -- or in any career field for that matter -- here’s to hoping you have yet to face an ethical dilemma in the workplace. For those of us who have to make ethical decisions frequently, it can be a challenge to read between the lines and see the gray areas outside of the ordinary black and white.

That’s where the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA)’s Code of Ethics comes in. We don’t have to spin our ethical wheels. Professional values and provisions are outlined for us as industry standards.

 Ethics have helped to shape my career in the following ways:

Your loyalty to your organization only goes so far.

At the beginning of my career, I ecstatically accepted a position at a local nonprofit organization. I had high hopes as a freshly graduated 22-year-old PR practitioner, so I wasn’t prepared to have to use my ethical college teachings at such an early point in my career. I loved talking with the media about the organization’s causes and events. I thought my nonprofit-loving-heart was right at home. Little did I know, I was not the captain of my own destiny in that place. Unethical behind-the-scenes practices lurked around every corner. Ultimately, I confronted the issue head-on because I couldn’t turn a blind eye to what was happening. I left not two months after accepting the PR and development position. I left my PRSA Code of Ethics on the desk after I handed my boss my resignation letter -- effective immediately.

The bottom line is, if you see something fishy going on and can launch an escape pod, then do it. Your loyalty to yourself is much more important. Plus, if you’re at the beginning of your career, be mindful of the work you do, relationships you forge and behaviors you exhibit while at work, off the job and on social media. Reputation is everything in public relations, and being ethical aids in maintaining a healthy reputation.

Disclose all conflicts of interest.

I’m from a small town, so of course, conflicts of interest arise. The vital thing to keep in mind is to disclose any and all conflicts of interest. The PRSA Code of Ethics addresses this and states:

  • “Act in the best interests of the client or employer, even subordinating the member’s personal interests.

  • Avoid actions and circumstances that may appear to compromise good business judgment or create a conflict between personal and professional interests.

  • Disclose promptly any existing or potential conflict of interest to affected clients or organizations.

  • Encourage clients and customers to determine if a conflict exists after notifying all affected parties.”

If you’re managing a side hustle along with your 9-to-5, be sure to talk with your direct supervisor. And don’t use your organization’s email address to do side work. Create another one to use to send out all of your side communique. The important thing is to be up front and honest with those around you.

We have a responsibility to enhance the profession.

This goes beyond using red ink to mark up a colleague’s press release or adding our two cents to a project. This means we act as leaders within the profession and can clearly articulate when something is excellent and when something just doesn’t sit right with us. The more experience I get, the more I am asked to act as a mentor to those starting their careers -- which I love! A challenging part of that responsibility is being honest with the other person or group. If you see them doing something halfway, it’s in their best interest to tell them so they don’t go out in the world and think that’s the correct way to employ RPIE or another strategy/tactic. Trust me, as a natural people pleaser, this doesn’t come naturally, but my experience and love for the profession are my guiding light.

We also owe it to ourselves to learn new techniques to make us better at our jobs. I like to learn something new every day. I take at least five minutes to read a trade publication article, try a new method or talk with a colleague. Knowledge is out there waiting for you if you actively look for it.

Copyright © MMXVIII Hourglass Media, LLC

Kaylin R. Staten is an award-winning public relations practitioner and writer. She owns Hourglass Media, a consulting company based in Huntington, WV. 

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