Posted on October 12, 2015, at 6:00 p.m.
by Shelby Bonner.
What is the most valued asset you can have in the world of public relations? If you’re a PR student, you’ve probably already guessed it — ethics. We all know that as public relations practitioners it is our job to be transparent, honest and trustworthy. But what else do we really need to know about what’s right and wrong when entering the PR workforce?
Why does it matter?
As a public relations student, you constantly hear about ethics — and it’s for good reason. Not only is a sense of ethics something everyone should value in day-to-day life, but it is also highly valued in the PR world. If you work for a company with a good reputation, integrity and the public trust, then you will be well-respected by everyone in the field.
However, it goes a little further than that. The PRSA Ethical Guidelines say that in order for public relations to be effective it has to have ethical practitioners. The PR profession relies on having a good image: If a practitioner does not have a strong moral code, why would anyone trust that person? Also, public relations practitioners are not required to be registered. Anyone can claim to be a public relations practitioner, even people with low professional and ethical standards. Thus, it is important to have a strong set of values to set yourself apart from the “practitioners” who are unprincipled.
The Golden Rule of workplace etiquette
So, ethics and etiquette are very important in any organization. But what is the most important principle of etiquette to follow when figuring out how to navigate the intricate world of public relations?
According to Kathie Martin, APR, The Golden Rule for etiquette in any company is — The Golden Rule.
“The rule of thumb is pretty much one we’re all taught, and that’s The Golden Rule. Treat others the way you would like to be treated, and you have to think with every situation ‘Am I doing the right thing?’” said Martin, who is founder and president of The Etiquette School of Birmingham.
Samantha Jacobs, founder of Hemsworth Communications, had a similar take on workplace interactions.
“The Golden Rule is always a good one and should not be overlooked. If you treat your co-workers and supervisors the way you would like to be treated, you will be in good shape,” said Jacobs.
Jacobs added that trust, respect and understanding are the most important things you can offer someone in a workplace interaction.
Know where the line is
If you are new to the world of PR, you have to be delicate while trying to figure out what is considered morally right by some but not by others. How do you know if you’re being asked to do something that is unethical?
“I think this is really all about intuition,” Jacobs said. “There are no set rules, but professional agencies and employers should maintain a certain degree of respect and never ask their employees to do things they themselves would not want to do. Even though you’re new in the field, I think you still can trust your gut in most cases as a human being. If something feels wrong, it probably is.”
According to The Institute for PR one of the keys to being an ethical PR practitioner is to know your own set of values. It is crucial that you be familiar with the values that you see as the most important. When you have clearly defined your own morals, it is easier to see where the line of what is ethical lies, so you know not to cross it.
Martin noted that if anyone has a question about an ethical dilemma they face, it would be helpful to look at the ethical guidelines on the PRSA website. If you are still unsure about a situation, take a step back, take a minute to breathe and think the situation through from all sides. “If a student has any question, they need to think it through completely,” Martin said.
Stay true to your moral compass
It’s important to remember that being a morally respectable PR practitioner goes beyond just knowing what your set of values is. The best way to be an ethical PR practitioner is to be unwavering in your morals. “Be true to yourself,” Jacobs said. She added that it is always best if you make decisions based on your intuition.
“If you, as a PR person, are honest, trustworthy and a credit to your field, if you show respect to everyone and every company you come in contact with, you will build a reputation that will take you far on the human as well as the professional level. That’s ethics. And that’s etiquette,” Martin said.