Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Ethics of PR - 'not an oxymoron'

I'm speaking today about media measurement and monitoring at the annual conference of the Maryland Chapter of the Public Relations Society of America. Here I met Jeff Julin, the outgoing national chair and CEO PRSA. He's quite a knowledgable fellow about the world of PR and is a real believer that PR is an ethical, honorable profession.

In a well-attended session, Jeff said that despite all the changes that have come to the profession because of the new flow of information on the Internet, PR is still all about relationships with your publics and being honest with them. He pointed to the groups Code of Ethics which focuses on the following values:

  • advocacy (for the public, not for their companies)

  • honesty

  • expertise

  • independenc

  • loyalty (to the organization, but not a blind loyalty)

  • fairness

  • loyalty

A question came up: How do you stay loyal to a client and to your ethics (think Edelman and Walmarting Across America.) if they are at cross purposes? Jeff said the good thing is that major personal crisis of ethics don't come up all that often. I asked what a company like Edelman should have done if approached by Wal-Mart to create a "fake" blog.

Jeff said in these cases, like all that PR does, you have a responsibility to stand up to your client and challenge something that you feel is not ethical. Jeff admitted that the realities of "paying the mortgage" come in and walking away from accounts is not always realistic but standing up for what you believe is the first step and showing WHY you think the idea is bad is the way to go.

One of the attendees followed on that and suggested you should challenge such ideas on the basis that they are bad business ideas and show examples of others' missteps. (Oh and there are lots of them out there.)

An aside: Jeff also talked about how PRSA no longer talks about "press releases" but "news releases" in a nod to the fact that information goes out to more than just the "press" today.

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