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Millennial’s Ethical Challenge: Changing the Stereotype

Posted At: April 4, 2012 3:00 PM
by Mariah Fairweather

When some hear the term “Public Relations” they get a sour taste in their mouths. The negative view of the PR field is related to past PR practitioner’s poor ethical decisions. Ethics is the glue that holds the PR field together. One unethical decision could ruin a company’s and your own reputation.

Could the newest generations of PR professionals change this ethical stereotype?

“I feel like ethics is what really makes our industry credible. It legitimizes what we do,” The Public Relations Student Society of America National President Adam Aisner said. “Public relations practitioners have a bad reputation and as someone who likes to advocate for causes, I want to advocate for my industry, the one that I have worked really hard in, and the one I am going to dedicate my career to. I want my industry to have a positive reputation; I do not want to be known as a spin doctor.”

PRSSA defines ethics as “systems or sets of moral principles and a branch of philosophy dealing with good, bad, right, wrong and responsible human conduct. In public relations, the ethical way is the only way.”

For the past few years the millennial generation has been criticized for their lack of work ethic. The first to come of age in the new millennium, this generation encompasses people born between 1980 and 2000. Many millennials currently fill entry-level PR jobs or in college.

The Public Relations Society of America conducted a study on millennials’ approaches to ethical decision making. According to the report “Many agency managers view new public relations graduates with dismay because ‘the most important target is themselves in all aspects of life, including time management’ (Porter Novelli, 2008).”

Most of the millennial generation cannot remember a time before the Internet, cellphones or video games. The technological advances in today’s world could be one of the reasons why the millennial generation is criticized for its lack of work ethic.

According to Pew Research, “It’s not just their gadgets — it’s the way they’ve fused their social lives into them”

Aisner agreed, “We are so used to texting and abbreviating words, which can cause AP style errors. Twenty years ago, they did not make that same mistake or rely on spell check.”

PRSSA is working to help promote responsible and ethical decision making in PR students across the country. The PRSSA vice president of advocacy works to educate members of the society about the ethical decision-making process. Educating students helps create strong ethics later on when they enter the job market.

The 2011-2012 Vice President of Advocacy Jonathan Rochester used social media to help promote ethics. During the month of September, ethics month, he co-hosted a twitter chat with PRSSA Vice President of Public Relation Lauren Gray and posted blogs concerning ethics.

Regarding each chapter’s ethical responsibility, “There is also a huge push for Chapter’s and the individual leadership to take hold and gain a great foot hold and challenge their members,” Rochester said.

PRSSA asks all its members to abide by to the PRSSA Code of Ethics, which is modeled from their parent organization PRSA’s Code of Ethics. PRSA’s values include advocacy, honesty, expertise, independence, loyalty and fairness.

The society promotes ethical decision making by hosting workshops at events, such its national assembly. EachPRSSA chapter is asked to send one delegate to attend the assembly, during which they vote for the new national board and attend workshops on improving their chapters.

Jessica Colburn, the 2012-2013 Capstone Agency firm director, represented The University of Alabama at PRSSA’s national assembly and attended the ethical practices workshop.

“I learned the importance of being an ethical professional. The 2012 PRSSA National President Adam Aisner led the session. We were placed into groups and then were given different scenarios that would help us to make an ethical decision,” Colburn said, “I thought this session was very helpful.”

The only ones who can change the opinion of the millennial generation’s work ethics, are millennials themselves.

Rochester provided three pieces of advice for future PR practitioners.

  • Be familiar with the principles of the PRSA Code of Ethics. Be prepared for tough situations so that if an occasion arises you are not as shocked.
  • Do not be afraid to ask for advice on the situation.
  • Every opportunity has the ability to be handled ethically.


  1. Post comment

    Mariah, I think you made some very good points in this article. I think the one that I can relate to most as a college student, is that the business world sees our generation as lazy or self-absorbed. With the inventions of social networking sites, its easy to get lost in what our friends are doing, or looking at funny videos and pictures, but I think that our generation, and America’s businesses, need to realize that these sites are the root of today’s communication.
    Even people who aren’t on Facebook and Twitter are influenced by what happens in the social sphere. While hiring us and cobbling together a social media plan, most companies need to understand that with the right strategy and restrictions, our generation can communicate highly successfully and ethically in the social sphere. Thank you for sharing.


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